Reports that WhatsApp was forcing users to start sharing data with Facebook, with no option to opt out, lead to the rampant spreading of rumors and speculation across social media. Those new frightening privacy labels on the Apple App Store probably didn't help matters either.
- These are the best encrypted messaging apps you can download now
- How to switch from WhatsApp to Signal
- Plus: WhatsApp worm spreading Android malware — protect yourself now
WhatsApp insisted nothing was really changing, with the main brunt of the new policy offering more transparency over what data it was already sharing with Facebook. Data from conversations with businesses would now be shared, but that was about it and wouldn't affect anyone who didn't do any of that.
The contents of encrypted messages or your contacts list wouldn't be visible to WhatsApp or Facebook, and users in the U.K. and EU were totally exempt thanks to local data protection laws.
Originally this new policy would come into force on February 8, but WhatsApp has since pushed it back to May 15, purportedly to give everyone time to read it and understand what was going on. But the damage was already done, and we've since seen millions of people flee to rival services.
But where do you go if you're leaving WhatsApp? There are a lot of encrypted messaging services out there, and it's not always easy to figure out which one is right for you. But we're here to help.
If you're hell bent on leaving WhatsApp, these are the best WhatsApp alternatives you can download right now
Signal is one of the most obvious choices for the more privacy and security conscious. The messaging service has endorsements from the likes of Elon Musk and Edward Snowden — with the latter crediting its security conscious approach for him still being alive.
Not only is Signal completely free, it also supports text messaging and voice, video and group calling. Messages can be set to self-destruct, and you can use a Chrome browser plugin if you’d rather send your messages from a desktop machine instead. Here's our tutorial on how to use Signal.
Signal's open-source end-to-end encryption protocol is also used by WhatsApp, so you'll be getting WhatsApp's security without Facebook's involvement.
The Signal app regularly conducts security audits on its software and manages to combine that security with a user-friendly interface that even your technophobic uncle could manage.
Signal is owned and operated by a non-profit foundation headed by cryptography expert and self-described anarchist Moxie Marlinspike and WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, who famously left Facebook in 2017 after a public dispute over the future of WhatsApp.
The only downside right now is that Signal has seen such a huge influx of new users that it's been struggling to keep up. So if you have any problems signing up, just remember that it's only temporary and a credit to the app's new-found popularity.
If you’d rather have something similar to WhatsApp and linked to your phone number, Telegram is one option for you. That said, experts have pointed out that Telegram's services aren’t that secure, and its end-to-end encryption is not set up by default. So that’s worth bearing in mind.
That said, Telegram still offers the option to share files, set messages to self-destruct, and chat in groups of up to 200,000 users. It can also sync messages across all your devices, and costs absolutely nothing to use.
If you’re an iPhone or Mac user, then the simplest option is sometimes the best, and iMessage is the ideal alternative to WhatsApp.
Not only can you send messaging to all phone numbers, whether they use iMessage or not, but Apple has a proven track record of not bending to demands by governments that it add backdoors to its encryption. So your messages stay safe (unless someone can read your iCloud backups).
iMessage is just as fully-featured as other popular messaging apps, with support for images, GIFs, video and group calls. In some countries iMessage users can even send each other money using Apple Pay.
Video and voice calling is not included in iMessage, and you’ll have to do that in the FaceTime app instead -- and FaceTime works only with Apple devices. Why iMessage and FaceTime haven’t been blended into one single communications app isn’t clear, but that’s the way it is. At least it’s already installed on all iPhones and most Macs.
Google Messages is Google’s answer to iMessage, and it's available to all Android users via Google Play and often right out of the box.
Designed to replace your existing SMS app and integrated with all Google’s services, Google Messages is essentially iMessage, but for Android (and Windows, but not Macs or iOS).
End-to-end encryption is automatic when you’re messaging anyone else with Google Messages and you can send all your usual images and files as you would with something like WhatsApp.
What Messages doesn’t have is video and voice calling, since that’s all handled by Google Duo. That’s right: Just as iMessage and FaceTime are still separate for some reason, so are Messages and Duo, although the latter isn't restricted to Android devices.
The good news is that Duo is likely already installed on your Android phone, and if it’s not it’s free to download from Google Play. iPhone users can get Duo from the Apple App Store.
Download Google Messages: Android
Threema is an app dedicated to complete privacy, with the option to use the app with total anonymity. You can connect it to your email or phone number, in case you want people to be able to find you, but unlike a lot of apps that's not mandatory.
Naturally it also lets you send text, voice, picture, and video messages, which are all encrypted. Likewise you can create group chats, send files, and even set up polls to more easily collect feedback from all your contacts. What's more it has a built-in secure browser, and like WhatsApp everything is stored on your phone rather than some random server anyone can access.
Threema itself is based in Switzerland, which is known for its strong privacy laws, but it hasn't really caught on in other countries. The lack of name recognition and the $3 pricetag might make it hard to convince other people to migrate with you.
Another option hailing from Switzerland and it's strong privacy laws, Wire is another encrypted messenger with the usual array of messaging options. It lets you chat via voice, text, and video, while also supporting things like GIFS, file sharing, and all the other stuff you like from WhatsApp.
Unlike WhatsApp it's able to sync across devices, and supports multiple accounts for those times you need to keep your communications separate.
Wire uses its own open-source encryption protocol called Proteous, but it's based on the Signal protocol used by both Signal and WhatsApp and undergoes regular security audits to keep it secure.
Wire is free for mobile and desktop users, though there is a paid tier designed for businesses.
Those are your simplest options right now, although you can always opt for one of the other best encrypted messaging apps that are currently available, Whether it’s Wickr Me, Viber, the $10 a month Silent Phone, or something else entirely, you’re sure to find something that works for you — and everyone else you’re messaging.