Signal vs WhatsApp? (The Greatest War of Privacy) – A Case Study

Signal vs WhatsApp

Table of Contents

Privacy is dead and social media is holding the smoking gun! In this case study, let’s be witnesses to the war of privacy. But, what is the signal vs WhatsApp fuss all about?

WhatsApp has had dominion over the messaging app community for a long time. Overflowing with features, this Facebook-owned company has never failed to keep its audience engaged.

With nearly 2 billion users worldwide, WhatsApp has made a mark in history, especially in India. It has the most extensive user base in India and surely knows how to keep them engaged.

Since WhatsApp announced its change in privacy policies, it has left people skeptical of the platform. It received backlash from people for their “All or nothing” policy, which disrespected their choice.

WhatsApp tried to dispel all miscommunication and tried to shrug it off as a “PR mishap” by immediately entering into the damage control mode. It attempted to ensure its user that their messages are safe and cannot be read by either WhatsApp or Facebook. But even after its constant efforts to repair its reputation, the damage seems irreparable.  

This whole fiasco reminds us of Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandalBetween all of this, it is the user that will suffer. Thus we need to be aware of the security threats and be informed about our rights. 

From WhatsApp’s rise, the release of its new privacy policies, news reportings, WhatsApp fall from grace to the best communication mediums and alternative platforms, you will get all of the information in this case study. 

Update – Due to the backlash, WhatsApp has extended the deadline to accept its new privacy policies. In contrast, the Indian Government has raised several concerns regarding a breach of privacy as it is forming new laws regarding data protection. The deadline for accepting the policy is extended to 15th May 2021.

The Latest WhatsApp Update – What Changed and why did people freak out?

Recently, WhatsApp updated its privacy policy for users. The Facebook-owned company also stated that the users who would not agree to the privacy policy change, their accounts will be taken down permanently. 

whatsapp updates its privacy policy- Signal vs WhatsApp

WhatsApp also stated that the policy update does not affect the privacy of our messages with friends or family in any way. The changes are related to optional business features on WhatsApp and they took this opportunity to provide further transparency about collecting and using data.

WhatsApp posted a writing piece answering all the questions about WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy, last week in which they discussed their privacy policy. WhatsApp clarified that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook could read your messages or hear your calls with your friends, family, and co-workers on WhatsApp. 

Whatever we share, it stays between us. It was also mentioned that WhatsApp’s location-sharing is protected by end-to-end encryption, which means no one can see our location except the people we share it with.

They also stated that we could choose to set our messages to disappear from chats after sending them by the feature called Disappearing Messages.

People are freaking out that their private information might leak because of WhatsApp. However, WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy states that their messages continue to be protected against Facebook, its companies, and other third-party applications from reading them.

There are nuances and unclear contradictions throughout the new terms. The governments of India, Italy, Hong Kong, and Turkey are currently investigating new policies to protect user data privacy.

People are also skeptical about using WhatsApp payments (UPI), first introduced in early 2018. With the fear of bank account details getting leaked, people are trying to distance themselves from the app for now.

What is security, end-to-end encryption, and why should you care?

News on data breaches across the world of the internet has become so common that it almost seems normal now. Not a single day passes by without any chaotic news concerning cyber threats. And even though IT developers and ethical hackers have designed solutions to secure data from consistent cyber attacks, we still are a long way from being fully protected online. 

A popular security solution is “End-to-end-encryption.” This solution came into the limelight in 2014 and is considered one of the safest ways to communicate online.

It safeguards the content of the conversations. This includes the videos, photos, important documents like pdf, google forms, on your phone, that we share amongst each other and makes them inaccessible to a third party who has the intention to intrude on our privacy.

If you’re concerned about the service providers, then it’s time to rejoice because even they can’t decode the information being exchanged.

How does it work?

Usage of codes has always been safer since their invention. From communicating with a friend among mischievous classmates to sending war and peace signals, secret codes have always helped humankind secure privacy.

Similarly, End-to-end-encryption is something that works with coded messages. According to Self-Defense Surveillance, ‘encryption is the process that will convert a piece of information in the form of illegible codes for the third party. Only someone who can decode the data has access to the message exchanged.’

Mechanism

End-to-end encryption works with two keys, one used for encoding, the other for decoding. Only the sender and the receiver get the hold of these two keys each, and no intermediaries can access the information, thus securing your data and ensuring your privacy.

Why should you care?

There is no doubt that E2E tool is a gift for social media fanatics as nobody would want anyone else to access or tamper with their personal information. 

First, you should be glad that even if the data gets leaked to a notorious one, they can’t decrypt it. Secondly, you have the authority to decide with whom you want to share your information.

Signal App – The Backstory

Signal is a cross-platform centralized encrypted messaging service developed by the Signal Foundation and Signal Messenger. It uses the internet to send one-to-one and group messages, which can include files, voice notes, images, and videos. 

It can also be used to make one-to-one and group voice and video calls, and the Android version can optionally function as an SMS app as well. Do all these features ring a bell? That’s right, WhatsApp offers the same features. This makes Signal a direct competitor of WhatsApp.

What draws the line of difference is that Signal’s software is free and open-source which means that anyone is freely licensed to use, copy, study, and change the software in any way. 

This is in contrast to proprietary software which is also known as non-free software, or closed-source software, which means computer software for which the software’s publisher or another person reserves some rights from licenses to use, modify, share modifications, or share the software where the software is under restrictive copyright licensing and the source code is usually hidden from the users.

Signal Technology Foundation was founded on 10th January 2018 by Moxie Marlinspike and Brian Acton. It is an American non-profit organization, which focuses on Open-source privacy technology that protects free expression and enables secure global communication which means that it allows two sides to communicate without ‘any kind’ of interference from a third party.

The Signal Technology foundation shares its name with the Signal messaging app.

Signal App- Signal vs WhatsApp

Since Signal is funded by a non-profit organization, it makes no profit by selling the data of its customers, unlike WhatsApp which is profitable and can benefit by selling the data of its users to its parent companies and the affiliated companies side by side, which is exactly what the latest controversy is all about.

Signal vs WhatsApp: Why only Signal?

With a catchy tagline, ‘Say Hello to Privacy’ and flaunting end-to-end encryption, Signal is a direct competitor to WhatsApp. As a matter of fact, WhatsApp uses the Signal protocol for its end-to-end encryption feature. But unlike WhatsApp, Signal is not owned by Facebook. 

Talking about the best team chat software Signal is ranked second while WhatsApp is ranked 31st. Signal is free, has strong encryption, and works on all mobile platforms. Every message is encrypted, so only the sender and receiver can read them. Messages are completely unreadable to hackers. Signal uses open-source encryption, which allows experts to test it and find bugs. This makes the app even more secure.

Users can choose to let messages disappear by setting a time interval for automatic deletion. This guarantees privacy, even if someone else has the access to your phone.

Evidently, Signal is focused more on safety and security without any concern for profits (yet).

Data WhatsApp collects (and shares with Facebook)

WhatsApp users can easily know what data WhatsApp collects from their accounts. In fact, it’s so simple that all you have to do is to go to the apps’ Settings and request the report by tapping on the ‘Request Account Info’ Option. The report takes three days to generate. The report does not contain messages, as WhatsApp follows an end-to-end encryption policy. 

Signal vs WhatsApp

But after the recent update in the privacy policy, most of the users are concerned about what data WhatsApp collects and what they do with it. 

The report contains user account information, such as Phone number, account name, current profile photo, and has the exact time when you set the current profile photo, the device you are using, the time when you have been online, all contacts, all group names of which you are members of, the device type, and most importantly, your IP address.

It also has your settings for the app, including the privacy settings for Last Seen, Profile Photo, About Privacy, and Status Privacy. It also includes a list of the all numbers you have blocked and whether you have Read Receipts turned on.

After the new update by WhatsApp, the privacy policy of the app will change. There has been immense confusion and agitation amongst the users. The war of privacy has begun, with the leading competitor being Signal as of now.

According to reports, when WhatsApp launched its privacy policy in 2016, it started sharing user information and metadata with Facebook.

Our updated Terms and Privacy Policy provide more information on how we process your data, and our commitment to privacy,” WhatsApp wrote on Monday. In continuation, it also added, “As part of the Facebook Companies, WhatsApp partners with Facebook to offer experiences and integrations across Facebook’s family of apps and products.

Boiling the statements down, WhatsApp could be seemingly sharing intel with Facebook. Transaction and payment data, cookies, and location information could also be included in these data transactions, depending on the permissions you grant WhatsApp in the first place.

Why has WhatsApp’s new update suddenly become a problem?

WhatsApp’s new update

WhatsApp’s new update came with an ultimatum to delete its users’ accounts if they didn’t hit the agree button to its privacy policy by 8 February 2021. The policy backfired as it created a lot of chaos and misunderstanding among the users. It declined the userbase of Whatsapp by a considerable percentage. With this amount of criticism, WhatsApp moved the deadline to 15 May 2021 just to clear the policies of the update.

According to the panicked users, the end-to-end encryption policy will be discontinued, which will end-users’ privacy. The messages will be stored on the Facebook server, giving Whatsapp and Facebook access to see anyone’s conversations. They can hear anyone’s call, keep a record of the call logs, access shared locations and user’s contacts. Facebook can also share its connections to the ad agency for marketing purposes. They can also see, share or leak the business conversations. 

The policy has triggered distress among users. They are concerned about their privacy, which is apparently at risk. Their conversation is not safe now. Many have deleted their accounts and started trending hashtags to uninstall WhatsApp on Twitter. The users began to uninstall WhatsApp and shifted to Signal and Telegram.

 Damage Control by WhatsApp

WhatsApp in damage control mode — privacy policy deadline just extended

WhatsApp has entered the damage control mode. After the recent backlash concerning its privacy policy, it immediately announced that the deadline for its customers to accept the terms and conditions has been extended up to three months. This has been recognized as their first and major damage control step. 

Thinking about it the new May 15 will give people more time to understand the new policy changes. This whole situation has reminded people that Facebook owns WhatsApp, and there’s always a chance the relationship between the two will get stronger.

Can WhatsApp gain its trust back in its largest market? 

Talking about the Indian market, WhatsApp replaced texting. India is the largest user base of WhatsApp, and yet there is a mass movement in India right now to migrate from WhatsApp to Signal, sparked by concerns of privacy. 

It is ironic that WhatsApp is facing so much backlash in terms of privacy as it was the first mass-market to have end-to-end encryption. Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and Twitter DMs still don’t have it. 

People got their first confirmation, about WhatsApp not being safe when they realized that Facebook can use software to hack into people’s WhatsApp. 

WhatsApp is infamous for prodding from time to time to backup your chats. These backups on your device or on cloud services are not protected. WhatsApp should have come out and explained this, but nothing of this sort happened. 

How are people responding to Signal vs WhatsApp fiasco?

Netizens have taken this to Twitter to have a vivid discussion on the topic of WhatsApp vs Signal. Also, memers worldwide have shared their creative, funny responses on the platform to mock WhatsApp’s new update policy.   

To come across each tweet is actually a hilarious ride. Their way of condemning WhatsApp’s new policy straightaway directs their frustration, fear, and feeling of trust breach. 

Twitterati knows that they have better and safer options than WhatsApp. Trending hashtags like #SignalApp #Telegram clearly are voicing their opinions. They are straight and powerful. 

How Elon Musk increased Signal users?

Famous Tesla owner Elon Musk’s tweet, “Use Signal,” has gathered critical attraction. These two words have soared up Signal messaging app’s downloads to more than six times the existing rate. 

Elon’s tweet doesn’t explain whether it was a business move, but it surely has confirmed its greater impact on the netizens worldwide. 

Is Signal Really safe to use?

A simple answer to this question is YES. Signal uses end-to-end encryption protocols to secure all communications to other Signal users. All calls, including long-distance and international calls, are also encrypted and made over a Wi-Fi or data connection and are free of cost. 

Signal records no metadata about its user contacts or messages, so it is virtually impossible to infer anything about their communication based on the app’s use.

American whistleblower Edward Snowden and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey have publicly recommended using Signal.

Signal allows its users to send end-to-end encrypted group, text, picture, and audio & video messages and make encrypted audio and video calls. Signal also requests permission to access its user contacts before they compose a message for someone.

The Signal app also has disappearing messages like WhatsApp that can be accessed by tapping on disappearing messages. Users can set their message timer anywhere from 5 seconds to 1 week.

How to secure your data on WhatsApp and social media?

It’s evident that WhatsApp is the only app you’d think about when it comes to choosing a messaging app. This growing social media app has around 2 billion users across the globe. In India alone, there are 340 million users. 

But when we talk about social media, the first thing which comes to mind is, is our data safe? 

Maybe it isn’t, but it’s possible to secure our data. 

5 Steps to secure your data on WhatsApp and Social Media

1. Disable Cloud Backup (Only in WhatsApp)

Disable Cloud Backup (Only in WhatsApp)

WhatsApp follows an end-to-end encryption policy, but there is one loophole. It backs up the chats on Google Drive or iCloud, which doesn’t allow end-to-end encryption.

Disable the backup if you want to protect your conversations:

  1. On iPhone: Go to WhatsApp > Settings > Chats > Chat Backup > Auto Backup > Off
  2. On Android: Go to WhatsApp > Menu > Settings > Chats > Chat Backup > Backup to Google Drive > Never

2. Use the Official WhatsApp App on Desktop

Whatsapp is available on desktop as Whatsapp Web or Whatsapp Desktop App. For both, you have to sync it with your phone. 

Electronic Frontier Foundation says, “Whatsapp Web is easily manipulated.”

It is one of the biggest threats Whatsapp users have been facing. If you are concerned about your privacy, you should use Whatsapp Official Desktop App.

3. Enable Two Factor Authentication

Every social media provides the Two Factor Authentication service. It requests you a code or OTP whenever you log in from a new device. 

Phone Security - Mobile Protection

WhatsApp provides Two-Step Verification. It is a periodic password to your Whatsapp. The routine checks for passcode are randomized and ask for a password when you log in from a new device.

4. Protect the App with a password

Some social media apps provide a locking app, but some don’t. You can use a third-party locking app to protect your account from any mischief and protect your privacy.

On iPhones, use the face detection feature to protect your app.

5. Never give un-necessary permissions to social media Apps

When you download a new application on your phone, it asks for permission to access your media, storage, camera, and other phone applications. 

But why does a calling app request permission for a camera or location? Never give un-necessary permissions to social media or any apps.

Where would WhatsApp’s updated policy land it?

The number of users of WhatsApp due to the recent privacy policy dropped by a significant amount. 

In India, traders asked the government to ban WhatsApp. Trader’s body CAIT wrote to the Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, demanding to restrict Whatsapp from implementing the policy or imposing a Whatsapp and Facebook ban.  

“The changed privacy policy of WhatsApp is an encroachment on the privacy of an individual and runs against the fundamentals of the Constitution of India, and therefore the CAIT has demanded immediate intervention of the government,” said CAIT Secretary General Praveen Khandelwal.

What will be the outcome of the delay in the privacy policy by WhatsApp? 

Seeing the users’ outrage against the updated privacy policy, WhatsApp has extended the deadline to 13 May 2021. The company wants its users to understand the procedure and then accept it.

WhatsApp has issued a clarification regarding the privacy policy to clear the doubts of the users. But they don’t seek clarification. Instead, they want the company to remove its policy.  

WhatsApp privacy issues are not new! Then why are people talking about quitting it now? 

There are many messaging apps that don’t have an end-to-end encryption policy. But in April 2016, WhatsApp came with an “end-to-end-encryption” policy that promised users to safeguard their conversations from third-party intrusion. It was the main factor that made WhatsApp the most used messaging app.

Until last week, people believed WhatsApp is the only messaging app where they can share anything without even being concerned about their privacy. It gave a sense of security to its users until the news of its updated policy blew its users’ minds. 

Before their privacy policy got updated, WhatsApp was using data that didn’t include conversations of its users. But now, they will be able to read conversations which is the main reason behind all the chaos that lead users to quit WhatsApp. 

Best Communication medium in 2021

There’s no denying the fact that WhatsApp has been dominating the messaging service domain for a long time. However, as everything fades away, perhaps it is time for its reign to end. The tech giant has seen a fall in its download by 35% since its new privacy policy release. 

Meanwhile, other messaging apps like Signal and Telegram have seen a spike in their download numbers since the announcement.

At first, it may seem like an obvious choice to make the switch, but we need to analyze all the pros and cons of every platform before doing so. 

We have seen an in-depth analysis of each platform and explored their specs. 

Surely, Signal tops the list in terms of privacy and security, but it lacks certain features that the WhatsApp audience is accustomed to.  It provides end-to-end encryption by making the use of open-source Signal Protocol. Therefore, your messages, calls, video calls – everything is encrypted. Signal also encrypts the metadata- therefore disabling authorities to know about the sender and the receiver. 

At the same time, Telegram is laden with features and provides security up to some extent. Telegram provides security through its secret and self-destructive messaging services. It also provides interactive features like polls, quizzes, and hashtags, which enhance the user experience.  Telegram has recently introduced its voice and video call services for Android and iOS platforms to compete with the big leagues. It is preferable for those who want a balance between security and an array of features.

WhatsApp’s features, on the other hand, are unbeatable. With options like updating status, sharing live location, personalized QR, In-App payments, and group video conferencing, its services are unmatched for the time being. The only issue that one may face is security due to the updating of its privacy policies. The changes in the policies are not significant. However, because its parent company has been a part of controversy regarding the data breach, leak, and misuse majorly for advertisement purposes, it leaves people skeptical of the platform. However, due to E2E encryption, there is a chance that the security and privacy of one’s messages are maintained. 

Signal v/s WhatsApp v/s Telegram- The ultimate comparison

The fiasco caused by WhatsApp’s change in privacy norms has left the fate of this multinational corporation in the hands of the government, well, at least in India.

Since the “PR mishap”, everyone is in a dilemma to choose the right platform to ensure their safety, but the switch is inevitable. The other most popular alternatives being Telegram and Signal. 

If you are still worried about your future choice and feel the need to be well-versed in the security and privacy regulations, worry not. Our blog is your end station; we offer you an in-depth study about the three popular messaging platforms’ features and privacy issues.

Specs WhatsAppSignalTelegram
Security:End-to-End EncryptionYesYes; Additional end-to-end encryption of metadataNo
Data collectedUser ID, device ID, purchase history, advertising data, phone number, coarse location, contacts, email address, crash data, product integration, payment information, other diagnostic data, performance data, product interaction, customer support, and other user content.User’s phone numberUser ID, contacts, and contact info of the user
Mediaimages / audio / video / files / contacts / GIFs / locationimages / audio / video / files / contacts / GIFs / locationimages / audio / video / files / contacts / GIFs / location
PlatformYesYesYes
Cloud SyncYesYesYes
Maximum file size100 MB100 MB2048 MB
InApp PurchasesNoNoYes
OpenSourceNoYesNo
Message DeletionYes;Auto eraseYesYes;Mutual
Schedule messageNoYesYes
Maximum number of participants allowed in a group2561502,00,000
Video Conferencing on mobile platformYesMaximum 8 people allowedYesYes;One-on-one video call feature only
Video Conferencing on the desktop platformNoYes;One-to-one video call feature in beta testingYes
Self-Destructing messagesNoYesYes;Not on desktop
Last seen FeatureYesNoYes
Option to manage Profile picture audienceYesNoYes
Customized WallpaperYesNoYes
Bookmark messageYesNoYes
Personalized QR code to share contactYesNoNo
Status UpdatesYesNoNo
InApp Payment featureYesNoNo
Live Location SharingYes;For a certain time periodNo;Only location sharing no live sharingYes
Proximity alertNoNoYes
Online StatusYesNoYes
Dark ModeYesYesYes

Final words

WhatsApp now says the change affects only the chats we may have with business accounts, not the ones with friends and family. But who gets to decide whether chats with business accounts shouldn’t have privacy protection? 

Our personal and financial information is strictly ours and not anybody else’s monopoly. Apparently, our virtual world is more demanding than we thought.

Financial loss and identity theft have been recognized as two of the most serious and fastest-growing crimes in today’s time. Everyone should create a strong password for their social media handles, monitor their financial accounts, check their bank accounts, avoid oversharing of their personal life in social media and keep an eye around themselves.

“All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.” – Gabriel García Márquez

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