Privacy is an endangered species online–especially with free, ad-driven networks like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Coincidentally, they are all part of the same company, and now a new reports says Facebook is going to integrate its messaging services into one overarching network.
Is that a cause for concern? If you care about privacy, maybe so. And given the ample evidence that Facebook is privacy-challenged, it might be time to get your precious conversations away from its servers. Despite the fact that WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, Facebook has copped to collecting some usage data. And WhatsApp’s cofounder, Jan Koum, recently left Facebook, citing privacy concerns as one reason.
What’s a privacy-conscious person to do? Fear not. The biggest challenge in finding a private way to communicate is deciding which of the many, many encrypted apps to use. Aside from rock-solid security tech and the lack of an obvious motive to monetize user data, the popularity of an app is important. A conversation with no one is as private as it gets, but it’s not very useful.
And a big reminder, nothing is 100% secure. Given recent concerns about one of the best-regarded apps, Telegram, falling prey to bots, we’re going to skip over that one for the time being. The most important thing, though, is to use an app that isn’t funded by paying with your data.
Here are some of the best popular messaging apps to wean you off the Facebook empire:
- Signal: You probably have the least to fear from an open-source service dedicated to privacy. Whistleblower Edward Snowden’s app of choice (and popular overall in journalism), Signal runs on Android and iOS mobiles, as well as Windows and MacOS computers. It’s keyed to your cellphone number, so finding someone on Signal is as easy as making a regular call. Voice, text, video, document, and picture exchanges are encrypted end to end with the well-regarded Signal Protocol. Signal also supports group conversations. Messages can be set to self-destruct after a set amount of time. Find it here.
- Viber: A private venture showing little sign of ever making money, Viber has nevertheless held to its commitment to provide free, ad-free software and protect user privacy. (It’s owned by Japanese internet company Rakuten.) Viber works similarly to Signal (and WhatsApp), keyed to your cellphone number, but it’s designed for more entertaining conversations, with GIF and sticker sharing built in. Extensions also allow it to share media like YouTube videos and Spotify tracks. It has apps for Android, iOS, Windows, MacOS, and Linux. Messages can be set to self-destruct. Find it here.
- Wickr: Another app trying to make a buck (with corporate services), Wickr remains free for individuals, and is well regarded among the privacy conscious. It requires neither a phone number nor an email to set up, it handles all the same media types as Signal, and it provides group chat and disappearing messages. And it alerts you if someone on the other end takes a screenshot. MacOS is the only major OS it lacks an app for, but it can run in browsers. Find it here.