For those that have read the chrome browser alternatives or know about the best privacy focused browser alternatives, here’s the gist: Brave = Signal, Tor = Session. So for 99% of people, the choice of chat apps is as simple as choosing one of the two, for its balance of level of privacy and usability.
For others and those that want to know how chat apps that are marketed as being privacy focused stack up against each other, read on.
TL;DR. Get Signal for daily chatting including video calls and Session for highly private chat.
This is basically the Brave browser of chat apps. It accommodates 95% of people’s privacy needs with a very simple user experience, not requiring customization and knowledge from the user, and maintaining most of the functionality of popular mainstream services. One thing to keep in mind with chat apps that isn’t necessary with browsers is the popularity. Chat apps are tools to communicate with others. A chat app with the best features for you is useless if you can not talk to anybody. This is one aspect of the app that makes it far superior to any other chat app on this list.
In terms of privacy features, it checks all the boxes: open-source, NPO, good encryption, and minimal data collection and storage.
Technically speaking, WhatsApp does use the encryption protocol developed by Signal, but the two apps are nowhere near the same for privacy. Most WhatsApp users are connected to other Meta (formerly Facebook) services making the WhatsApp account infinitely more identifiable than the currently only required personal information on Signal, a phone number. On top of that, though Meta says that they are using the Signal protocol, looking at history, they are clearly one of the most unreliable in terms of privacy, especially when it comes at the cost of their profits and they have not done anything to regain the trust.
In short, it’s the Tor browser of chat apps. On top of the encryption of all information that Signal does, Session also doesn’t require a phone number, meaning there’s zero personally identifiable information of a Session account, and uses onion routing to send data from user to user like Tor browser. Information sent by a user to another user is passed through multiple nodes (other servers/computers) in various countries making the information practically unidentifiable and untraceable. These privacy features make Session currently the most robust in terms of privacy, and the biggest and basically only concern of information leaking would be for the other user/users leaking it in real life.
However, one of the largest downsides to these privacy features is that it leads to a lack of identifiability and less convenient voice and video calls. Because users share accounts by sending Session IDs, a long alphanumeric string, without confirming with them through a different messenger or in person, it could be anybody trying to deceive or impersonate. For the ultra privacy oriented, this small step may be worth it if they are using Session with only a select few users. The onion routing on the other hand is a larger concern however. Because the data has to travel through multiple nodes, the latency of data is significantly increased, as well as limiting bandwidth. Because of this, Session currently only has voice call on a closed-beta. This fact alone could deter one from using this service if they are heavily reliant on voice and video call.
Threema is a peculiar one. It has the privacy capabilities similar to that of Session and has a good interface. However it is a onetime purchase fee model. Getting the people around you to switch to an alternative messaging app is hard as it is, but when you have to convince them to pay to do more work, it is not compelling. But, unlike a company like Meta that stands to make money off of your information with advertising, it is a much cleaner business model. It doesn’t stand to make money by keeping you locked into the ecosystem either like subscription companies would like to do. So, though it is a great option if you and others are willing to pay for it, there’s an equally good product for free available. A tool means nothing if it isn’t used, and a messaging app can’t be used if there aren’t people to talk to. However, one thing that Threema does better then others is that they offer an enterprise service, and an enterprise oriented messaging service doesn’t exist anywhere else, so it becomes the only and best option. It is to be noted that the servers and headquarters are located in Switzerland, being one of the most privacy conscious countries and one of the few neutral countries in the world, meaning your data will be safe.
Telegram is often marketed and perceived as being a privacy conscious messaging service. It exploded with users when WhatsApp and other Meta services temporarily went down. However, Telegram is far from optimal for privacy. It is just mediocre. If somebody is looking for a feature-rich user-friendly experience and don’t care about privacy, they should go for something like WhatsApp, and if they are looking for privacy, they should go to Signal. One of the biggest distinctions from other messengers can be that it can create mass group chats. But in that case, Discord is often a better tool to get the job done. It is simply a service that has succeeded in marketing and people end up using it because there are already other users on the platform. But if you are concerned about privacy to the extent that you are reading this article, you should look to take the initial cost of getting your friends on to Signal or Session, instead of taking the initial comfort of the pre existing user base on Telegram.
Session or Signal. These two are the best chat application options that are out in the world today.
Signal is recommended by Edward Snowden who exposed the exploitation of the surveillance system by the US government.
Session has the encryption level of Signal and it also has onion routing which does not allow even Session to know who is chatting with who.