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Chat app: I receive messages from friends more and more often asking me which is the best app for chatting , which is the most complete and which is the safest from the point of view of privacy.

In fact it is not easy to choose. Just take a “stroll” on the Android, iOS or Windows Phone stores to find dozens of apps for messaging, one apparently more beautiful than the other … but obviously they are not all the same. To distinguish them there are many functions, the degree of compatibility with the operating systems and devices currently on the market and – something that is often not thought of – the way in which they process our data.

Is it therefore possible to elect a “better” one in absolute terms? Maybe not, but if you want I can help you choose the one that suits you best. All you need is some free time. Consult the list of applications that I am about to report to you, carefully evaluate all their pros and cons and try to find the one that’s right for you. You may discover software that you were not yet aware of and that offer far more features (and perhaps greater privacy protection) than what you used to use until now. Have fun!

Facebook Messenger

I don’t think it needs a lot of performance. This is the official Facebook messaging service. It is available both as an app on Android , iOS and Windows Phone and online, via the web version of Facebook. It is also accessible in “stand-alone” mode at the address messenger.com.

Its main strength is its integration with Facebook: if a friend is subscribed to the social network, he is automatically also on Messenger. In addition, there are group chats, support for a series of nice extensions to send stickers and animated GIFs and the call / video call function via the Internet (which, however, does not excel from a qualitative point of view).

From the point of view of privacy it is not the best. The messages are encrypted during the passage from the user’s device to the company’s servers, but from there they can potentially be read by Facebook (or by authorities who request it). For more information on how to download Messenger and how to use the application, check out my tutorial on the subject.

  • Pros: allows you to communicate with all Facebook contacts; supports groups; supports calls and video calls; it is accessible from PC via browser.
  • Cons: privacy not at the highest levels; it is not open source.

WhatsApp

Chat app

Here is another chat app that needs no introduction. With nearly 1 billion active users, WhatsApp is one of the most used messaging systems in the world.

It is extremely intuitive, can be used on all major software platforms ( Android , iOS , Windows Phone , BlackBerry and Symbian ) and requires a simple phone number for authentication. It also supports group chats, voice calls, and photo and video sharing. But it’s not without flaws. Indeed, there are some shortcomings and some limitations that are pushing many users to look elsewhere.

To give two practical examples: WhatsApp is not freely accessible from tablets (on iPad it can only be installed via jailbreak) and its Web version is quite limited (as well as not exactly flawless from a security point of view). Furthermore, the application does not allow you to share work documents (except through some tricks like the ones I explained to you in my post on how to send PDFs with WhatsApp) and has several unknowns from the point of view of privacy. What am I referring to? I’ll explain it to you right away.

In late 2014, WhatsApp began using an end-to-end encryption system called TextSecure. This system uses a pair of keys (a public one shared with its interlocutors and a private one residing on each user’s smartphone) which makes the messages decryptable only by legitimate senders and recipients. Not even the service providers can access their content. Unfortunately, however, the way in which this technology has been implemented leaves some perplexity.

In April 2015, German researchers published a study according to which only communications to and from Android devices were encrypted via the end-to-end system. On other platforms, end-to-end encryption was not used and unfortunately it is not known when that will change.

The developers have promised that all communications will soon be guaranteed by the TextSecure system, but unfortunately WhatsApp is closed source software and we cannot know if and when this will actually happen. Since it is not possible to thoroughly analyze the application’s source code, we have to cross our fingers and “trust” what its developers tell us.

Regardless of the implementation of end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp ensures that users’ messages are not stored on its servers (and consequently those of Facebook, since the app is now owned by the Zuckerberg group).

For more information on how WhatsApp works, see the guide I published on the subject.

  • Pros: it is used by many users; supports groups; supports calls; supports end-to-end encryption.
  • Cons: not compatible with many tablets; very limited web version; unknowns on privacy management; it is not open source.

Telegram

Chat app

Telegram is one of the best alternatives to WhatsApp and, more generally, one of the best messaging apps currently available on the market. It is open source and compatible with almost all devices: iPhone, iPad, Android devices, Windows Phone, Windows PC, Mac, and can also be accessed via the Web from a browser (without keeping the mobile phone connected to the Internet).

It offers the same functions as WhatsApp (except for calls, even if it allows you to send short audio messages) and in addition it offers the possibility of creating channels (i.e. conversations in which a single person posts messages and multimedia contents and the others follow him), create secret chats in which messages are self-destructing and share various types of documents in chat (including PDFs).

For its secret chats, Telegram uses an end-to-end encryption system that allows only legitimate senders and recipients to decrypt the content of the messages. Not even the service providers can access it. Furthermore, the open source nature of the application allows the community to verify how Telegram behaves “behind the scenes” and to immediately find any privacy or security problems.

The only negative note to report in the use of Telegram – if we want to define it that way – is that the application is less popular than WhatsApp and therefore it can be difficult to find your friends (you have to convince them all to “convert”).

  • Pros: it is compatible with all major software platforms and all devices; it is open source; supports end-to-end encryption; supports groups; supports channels; allows you to share many types of files.
  • Cons: does not support calls and video calls; unfortunately not many people know it and therefore there are fewer users than WhatsApp or Messenger.

Google Hangouts

Chat app

Hangouts is Google’s home messaging and video calling service. It is available as an application for Android and iOS and can also be used from a computer via Gmail.

It supports group chats (with the ability to share photos, videos and stickers), calls, video calls, allows you to make direct videos and on Android systems it also allows you to manage SMS.

As for privacy, messages are encrypted. They arrive on Google’s servers in an encrypted manner but the Mountain View giant has the keys to read their content in case of need (eg in case of requests from the authorities).

  • Pros: supports groups; supports calls and video calls; integrates with other Google services.
  • Cons: not compatible with Windows Phone; has fewer users than WhatsApp and Messenger; it is not open source.

Skype

Chat app

I don’t think there is much to say about Skype . It is a historic service for making calls and video calls via the Internet which of course also offers functions for messaging. It is now owned by Microsoft.

It is available for all major PC operating systems (Windows, Mac and Linux), all major mobile platforms and is also accessible via the Web.

Regarding privacy, it must be said that messages are stored on Microsoft’s servers for a limited period of time and can be read by the company at this juncture.

If you need help learning how to use Skype, check out my software guide.

  • Pros: it is used by many users; it is compatible with all major desktop and mobile platforms; supports group conversations; allows you to share various types of files.
  • Cons: it is not open source; it is not the best from the point of view of privacy; the stability of the service is not always flawless.

iMessage

Chat app

iMessage is Apple’s messaging system that allows iOS and OS X users to exchange free messages over the Internet.

In terms of functionality it is not comparable to more complex solutions such as WhatsApp or Telegram, but it works well and uses end-to-end encryption to protect messages. Apple cannot read the content of the conversations, at least until a backup is made to iCloud: in that case the data is stored on Apple’s servers and, theoretically, can be read by the company or by the authorities upon request.

  • Pros: End-to-end encryption is applied to messages.
  • Cons: for iOS and Mac users only; less complete than WhatsApp and Telegram.

Snapchat

Chat app

Defining Snapchat as a chat app seems a bit forced to me, but given the growing popularity it is acquiring, it seems only right to talk about it.

Snapchat is an application for Android and iOS based on sharing snapshots, ie photos and short videos that, once viewed, “self-destruct”. To learn more, read my tutorial on how to use Snapchat.

As for privacy, the snaps viewed by recipients are also deleted from the service’s servers and therefore cannot be recovered (at least according to the company’s official statements). Unopened snaps remain stored on Snapchat’s servers for 30 days, in encrypted form but can be decrypted by the company. In any case, more than the service managers, you should be careful of people who secretly record snaps and continue to make them “live” through screenshots or video recordings!

  • Pros: An original way to share photos and videos.
  • Cons: privacy not at the highest levels; it is not compatible with Windows Phone; it is not open source.

Other apps to chat

Chat app

To conclude, here is a list of chat applications that must also be taken into consideration.

  • Viber – is a very complete application that offers the possibility to exchange messages, make calls and video calls. It is compatible with Android, iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry and Symbian in the mobile environment and with Windows, Mac and Linux in the desktop environment. For more information on this, read my post on how Viber works.
  • LINE – Japanese messaging application that stands as a direct rival of WhatsApp and Telegram. It allows you to chat, make calls, video calls and also includes functions to make short video montages and create small blogs in which to share texts, photos and videos. It is compatible with all major desktop and mobile platforms. More info here .
  • WeChat – the Chinese answer to WhatsApp and the like. It is compatible with all major desktop and mobile platforms and even includes a payment system to send money to your contacts. To learn more read my tutorial on how WeChat works.
  • Kik – application intended mainly for young audiences. Unlike WhatsApp, it does not require registration via phone number, it is used via username and password, and this has made fake accounts proliferate. It is compatible with all major smartphone operating systems. If you want to know more read my post on how Kik works.
  • Signal – if you are looking for an application that guarantees the highest level of privacy, turn to Signal for Android and iOS which was developed by the same creators of the end-to-end technology used by WhatsApp. Among its “sponsors” there is even Edward Snowden, the main architect of the datagate that led to the publication of many confidential documents of the US government.
  • IM + – a “classic” chat application that allows you to communicate on networks such as ICQ, Yahoo !, Facebook etc. It is available for Android , iOS and Windows Phone and can also be used via a PC browser.

Useful resources

If you want more information on how messaging services protect (or do not protect) our privacy, take a look at this article published by Re / Code , which I also used as a source to develop this post and in which we are told which encryption systems the main messaging applications use and which companies reserve the right to access our data.