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Understanding The Current WhatsApp Conundrum

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WhatsApp are updating their terms and policies and users have until February 8 to accept it. You may not be able to access your account if you don’t accept the new agreements post the 8th apparently. A look at what this means and the alternate cross-platform messaging and Voice over IP service providers available today. If you really need to switch that is!

The Bone of Contention

WhatsApp Users Suddenly Get This Surprise New Boost From Facebook

Facebook owns WhatsApp and the updated policy says that it may share your information with its family of companies to “facilitate, support and integrate their activities and improve our services.” This simply means information WhatsApp automatically collects from you will be shared with Facebook. This includes your mobile phone number and basic information you give when you create a WhatsApp account.

While that may not be too different from how other apps operate, the red flags causing alarm is that WhatsApp also collects and shares user activity, how often you use WhatsApp, features you use, your profile photo, your status and ‘about’ information. It also collects device-level information like what device you use, your mobile network, IP address, apart from collecting and using precise location information from your device, but with your permission.

The detailed policy can be read here.

What this means is that your information could be used by Facebook and its other products to make suggestions for you, personalise features and content, help you complete purchases and transactions, and show relevant offers and ads across the whole gamut of Facebook Company Products.

The Facebook family includes Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, Portal-branded devices, Oculus Products, Facebook Shops, Spark AR Studio, Audience Network, NPE Team apps and any other features, apps, technologies, software, products or services offered by Facebook Inc.

If this alone makes you squeamish, go ahead and switch messaging platforms. But, if the integrity and privacy of your messages is what bothers you, be assured that the latest update does not change the data sharing practices with Facebook.

The latest update will let Facebook access commercial user data on Whatsapp but with end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp cannot see private chats or calls and neither can Facebook. The company remains committed to E2E, Will Cathcart, the head of WhatsApp said. Check the thread on Twitter for further clarifications.

Bought by Facebook in 2014, WhatsApp is currently the most popular messaging app with over two billion active monthly users globally. WhatsApp popularised the use of end-to-end encryption in day-to-day communications, introducing it as its default for messaging in 2016.

To achieve this, WhatsApp cooperated with Moxy Marlinspike’s Open Whisper Systems to integrate the Signal encrypted messaging protocol. Microsoft and Google have also used the protocol, widely regarded as the gold standard in encrypted communications.

10 WhatsApp Alternatives

Many including Tesla’s Elon Musk have suggested using alternatives. Musk in a tweet had suggested people switch to Signal, an American messaging platform. Well, there are a ton of messaging apps that are pretty decent, like imo and Hike but if you are looking for an app to replace WhatsApp, the ones listed below are among the best. While none of these apps will match the user base that WhatsApp boasts of, they are more than good enough to replace it as far as features and privacy are concerned. With inputs from Beebom.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 80183158.jpg
Comparison courtesy: The Times of India

Signal has announced that it has a record level of downloads for the app around the world. “Between WhatsApp announcing they would be sharing everything with the Facebook mothership and the Apple privacy labels that allowed people to compare us to other popular messengers, it seems like many people are interested in private communication,” it said.

The Economic Times reported that Signal downloads have seen a 79% increase from India during the period January 1 to January 6 compared to December 26 to December 31. On Wednesday, it saw 2,200 people installing the app, up from 1,600 in the preceding week as per data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower.

On the Apple App Store, Signal became the top free app and has been endorsed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, as well as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Telegram, though more popular in India, only saw a marginal increase during the six-day period compared to the week before that. Telegram’s download ranking on Google Play, however, steadily rose over the past few days, Sensor Tower said.

1. Telegram Messenger

Telegram Messenger has been known as the best WhatsApp competitor for a while now and nothing’s changed. The open-source messaging app is still the best WhatsApp alternative out there. Along with the usual messaging features that both WhatsApp and Telegram pack, the latter brings other features like super groups of up to 100,000 people, public channels, usernames, ability to share files of up to 1.5 GB, pass code lock, self-destructing messages and end-to-end encryption in secret chat among other things.

Telegram

Then, there are Telegram Bots, which really enhance the experience. The bots not only bring you important info on the go but there are several game bots that let you play games inside the messaging app. Other than that, unlike WhatsApp, Telegram can be used on multiple platforms at once, so you can start texting on your phone and then continue it on your PC. I also love the voice call feature here which works quite well.

That said, Telegram lacks video calling feature. But it makes up for it by bringing really unique features that are not found on WhatsApp. So, if you don’t care about video calls, you cannot go wrong by choosing Telegram Messenger as your messaging app.

Availability: Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Windows, macOS, Linux, Web (Free)

2. Signal Private Messenger

Signal Foundation, the organization that powers the end-to-end encryption technology in WhatsApp Messenger and Facebook Messenger, offers its very own messaging app dubbed Signal Private Messenger. As you’d expect, Signal brings a number of security benefits when compared to WhatsApp. It offers self-destructing messages, screen security (prevents anyone from taking screenshots), and more.

signal

Plus, Signal brings encryption to its backups, calls, group calls, and every other data in the app. Even the files that you send using Signal are protected. Furthermore, according to Apple’s App Store listing, Signal doesn’t link any data to your identity.

whatsapp alternative app - signal privacy policy

It’s a great app for anyone who wants to securely converse with other users. That’s why, Signal is quite popular with journalists. Signal Private Messenger is for people who are looking for a simple and secure messaging app and if you are looking for something like that, it is the best WhatsApp alternative for you.

Availability: Android, iOS (Free)

3. Discord

Discord is no longer just a platform for chatting with your fellow gamers. While you can explore a variety of Discord servers to engage with your interests, Discord’s DM functionality is often overlooked by many. You can use Discord’s personal messages feature to send messages, emojis, emotes (if you have Discord Nitro), GIFs, images, and even documents. Furthermore, you can make voice calls, video calls, or even browse together after sharing your screen.

3. discord

Combined with neat integrations from Spotify, Twitch, YouTube, Battle.net, Steam, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Xbox Live, and GitHub, Discord has got you covered for all your messaging needs and is arguably better than WhatsApp.

You can also create group chats on Discord with a total of 10 members. If you need more capacity, you can always create a server. If you ask me, I’d recommend uninstalling WhatsApp right away and installing Discord. You will find the link to download Discord below and I can assure you that you won’t regret the decision.

Availability: Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Linux, Web (Free)

4. Bridgefy

One of the main problems with online messaging apps like WhatsApp is that they rely on an internet connection to work. And if you are out camping in the woods even the normal text messaging apps will not work. That’s where offline messaging apps come into play. These apps don’t require a mobile network or internet connection to work.

Rather, they create a peer-to-peer Bluetooth mesh network or Wifi Direct-based network on your phone and allow you to send messages to your nearby friends. If you are looking for such an app then you should use Bridgefy. Bridgefy offers three main types of messaging service; Person-to-Person mode, Broadcast mode, and Mesh mode.

1.-Bridgefy-Offline-messaging-app-alternative-for-whatsapp

You can send messages to a friend, broadcast them to entire group, and even use users as nodes to send messages to long distances. It is quite helpful during music festivals, sports events, natural disasters, and other such situations where you won’t be getting reliable mobile service.

In fact, Bridgefy and other such apps have become a bastion for protesters around the world as it allows them to evade internet censorship imposed by their governments. The app is free to download and use, and the best offline WhatsApp alternative in my opinion. You should check it out.

Install: Android (free), iOS (free)

5. Kik

Kik is a great messaging app for users who don’t want to use their number to operate a messaging application. While chat services like WhatsApp require users to use their number, I know many users who are not comfortable with sharing their personal numbers to these platforms.

For those users, Kik is a great service as it only requires you to use your email ID. Once you sign up for the service using your email ID, Kik will create a unique user name for you which you can share with other Kik users to chat.

kik

The best part about using Kik is that you are not losing out any messaging features. You still get access to all the important features including text messages, emojis, stickers, Gifs, photo sharing, video sharing, and group chats among other things.

Another unique feature of Kik is that it supports bots which is something that you do not get on WhatsApp. Using bots you can play quizzes, get fashion tips, latest news, and more. That said, the main USP of Kik remains its non-requirement of a phone number and if that’s something you want, definitely check it out.

Availability: Android, iOS (Free)

6. Snapchat

While Snapchat technically is not just a messaging app rather a social media app, I use it more and more as a messaging application thanks to some unique features that no other messaging application can offer. For example, I can send messages which can self-destruct after a set period of time. It also notifies me when someone takes a screenshot of my chats with them. Finally, it offers the best face mask collection of all the apps that I have ever used which makes this app fun to use.

Snapchat

Other messaging features are also here such as the ability to create group chats, voice calls, group voice calls, gifs, and more. I also love Snapchat because it is one of the most innovative chat services on the market. The features that users on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger normally enjoy are generally copied from Snapchat. So, if you want to access these cool features and be the first to receive the latest chat features, Snpachat is the app to use.

Availability: Android, iOS (Free)

7. Skype

Skype is without a doubt one of the best business chat applications of the market. With the power of Microsoft behind it, Skype has left all the other business chat applications in the dust. However, that progress has worked against Skype when it comes to personal chats as the business moniker that it has earned keeps normal users away. But let me tell you that Skype is one of the best chatting applications on the market especially if you make a lot of video and voice calls.

9. skype

I especially find Skype useful when I am using it to make overseas calls as the sound and video quality on Skype is far better than its competition. I also love Skype for its group video call functionality.

While most other apps don’t support group video calls, the ones who do often lag when you add more than three to four people. If you are someone who makes a ton of video calls with their friends and family, I can certainly recommend Skype over WhatsApp or any such chat application. You should check out our Skype tricks article to learn how you can use this app to its fullest.

Availability: Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, Web (Free)

8. Keybase

Keybase is an open-source secure chat application which is great for users who want to communicate securely. Since this is an open-source app, there’s no private company which is looking at all your data. Anyways the data is end-to-end encrypted so at no point in time, the message is exposed to nefarious actors.

keybase

The app doesn’t even allow you to take the screenshot of the chats. The messaging app works more like Slack than WhatsApp, however, it’s not aimed at businesses, rather it is mainly targeting users who are concerned with their online privacy.

My favorite feature of Keybase is that you don’t need anyone’s number or email ID to connect with them. This allows you to remain in contact with users with whom you don’t want to share your personal information with. Finally, this is one of the few messaging apps which offer a native application for Linux operating system. If you value your privacy, you should definitely check it out.

Availability: Android, iOS, macOS, Linux, and Windows (Free)

9. Viber

Viber is another popular messaging and VoIP app that really stands toe-to-toe with WhatsApp when it comes to features. Firstly, the app offers end-to-end encryption in calls, messages and the shared media. Moreover, the messages saved in multiple devices are also encrypted, which brings us to the fact that the messaging apps packs in multi-device support, which WhatsApp lacks.

viber

Like WhatsApp, Viber lets you make video and voice calls but the app goes one step ahead with its Viber Out feature, which lets you make international calls to non-Viber users at nominal rates.

Talking about the messaging features, Viber includes support for stickers, file sharing, last seen, voice & video messages, public accounts, backup to Google Drive and more. There is also a sticker store and Viber games, which are basically games you can play inside Viber. If you consider everything, you’d notice that Viber is an app that is very similar to WhatsApp. It packs in most of the features from WhatsApp and then some more.

Availability: Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Windows (Free, with rates for Viber Out)

10. Threema

Threema is a “seriously secure” messaging app, which should interest you if you are concerned about your security on WhatsApp. The app encrypts all the data, including messages, shared files, and even status updates. While it lacks WhatsApp features like voice & video calling, its security features are certainly impressive.

Along with end-to-end encryption in the app, the app also does not collect metadata and offers various encrypted backup options. Threema is open-source and has a very transparent privacy policy, so your security is in safe hands while you are using the app.

Threema WhatsApp Alternative App

It packs in the usual messaging features, along with a web client that works similar to WhatsApp Web but includes a few unique touches like the ability to create a poll in groups, password or fingerprint-protect chats, anonymous chatting (no number required), and the ability to agree/disagree to a message. Threema is a paid app but if security is important to you and you want a simple messaging app, it is worth the money.

Availability: Android, iOS, Web ($2.99)

Bonus: LINE

Another WhatsApp alternative you can use is LINE, which is a highly popular cross-platform messaging app that packs in a ton of features. Like WhatsApp, the app features end-to-end encryption, support for voice and video calls & messages and more.

It also brings quite a few unique features when compared to WhatsApp like LINE Out (lets you make international calls to non-LINE users), sticker store, a cool Keep feature (lets you save your favorite messages, photos etc.), and more. It also features a timeline in the app, where you can see any status updates and photo changes from your friends.

line

Other useful features of LINE include passcode lock, filter messages, themes, LINE Pay for payments, and more. There’s no doubt that LINE is a very capable and feature-rich messaging app, however, it does feel a little bloated. So, fans of WhatsApp’s simplicity might not like LINE much but if you aren’t bothered by that, you should give LINE a shot.

Availability: Android, iOS, iPad, Windows Phone, Windows, macOS, Chrome, Firefox (Free)

Frequently Asked Questions

What about your messages?

WhatsApp has reiterated that all messages are end-to-end encrypted. This means that neither WhatsApp, not third parties will access or read your messages.

“Nothing you share on WhatsApp, including your messages, photos, and account information, will be shared onto Facebook or any of our other family of apps for others to see, and nothing you post on those apps will be shared on WhatsApp for others to see,” WhatsApp says.

WhatsApp doesn’t store your messages once they’ve been delivered. Messages are stored on the user’s device and not on WhatsApp’s servers. Once messages are delivered, they are deleted from its servers.

In the course of delivering a message, WhatsApp’s servers store undelivered messages in encrypted form for up to 30 days and if a message is still undelivered after 30 days, WhatsApp claims to delete it.

“When a user forwards media within a message, we store that media temporarily in encrypted form on our servers to aid in more efficient delivery of additional forwards,” WhatsApp adds.

What about your transaction data?

Now that WhatsApp has launched a payments feature in India, it says that if you use WhatsApp Pay, additional information, including payment account and transaction information is processed by the company. This is information required to complete the transaction such as payment method, shipping details and transaction amount.

“If you use our payments services available in your country or territory, our privacy practices are described in the applicable payments privacy policy,” it adds.

What about ads?

WhatsApp does not allow third-party ads on its services. “We have no intention to introduce them, but if we ever do, we will update this Privacy Policy,” it says.

However, WhatsApp can use information it has about you to communicate to you about its services and market its services and those of other Facebook companies.  

What about businesses and third-part services?

WhatsApp recently launched WhatsApp Business, which allows businesses to contact and communicate with customers through its app. This could include making purchases through the app, or businesses contacting you, sending you order confirmations, flight tickets, tickets to other events, etc.

While chats between you and a Business are end-to-end encrypted, WhatsApp says that once the message is received, it will be subject to the business’s own privacy practices.

“Some businesses will be able to choose WhatsApp’s parent company, Facebook, to securely store messages and respond to customers. While Facebook will not automatically use your messages to inform the ads that you see, businesses will be able to use chats they receive for their own marketing purposes, which may include advertising on Facebook. You can always contact that business to learn more about its privacy practices,” WhatsApp says.

The detailed policy on interacting with businesses can be read here.

What choice do you have?

To continue using WhatsApp, you need to accept the new terms and conditions. If you do not wish to, WhatsApp too, suggests deleting your account.

For users who have already accepted the new terms and conditions, but do not want WhatsApp to share data with Facebook, or other businesses, they will have an additional 30 days to opt out and delete their account.

What happens if you delete your account?

WhatsApp says that when you delete your WhatsApp account, your undelivered messages are deleted from its servers along with any of your other information it no longer needs to operate and provide its services.

However, users must ensure they not only uninstall WhatsApp, but must delete their account from WhatsApp. This can be done by going to settings > Account and selecting ‘Delete my account’.

“Please remember that when you delete your account, it does not affect the information other users have relating to you, such as their copy of the messages you sent them,” WhatsApp’s privacy policy adds.

My personal take on the issue is to JUST WAIT & WATCH! WhatsApp is bound to review the policy changes before long!

Sources: Twitter/Beebom/The News Minute

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