Signal vs. WhatsApp: Which Messenger App is Safe to Use?
People have become more aware of online threats and their right to privacy for the past few years. Now that almost everything has gone digital, people must start considering apps that protect their privacy.
Many apps and browsers gather users’ data and sell it to advertisers because that’s how they earn, and users should be careful in choosing the apps they use and the data it gathers.
Nevertheless, the most critical decision smartphone users should focus on is selecting the safest instant messaging app which protects their online privacy. Communication should always be private; no app, advertiser, or law enforcement authority should have the right to dive into someone’s communication because that’s privacy infringement.
This is why we have prepared this guide, comparing two of the world’s most popular instant messaging apps. The WhatsApp vs. Signal privacy debate isn’t new and the most commonly asked question, “is signal better than WhatsApp” will finally be answered as we compare both apps concerning their privacy features.
What is Signal?
Signal is an open-source, free instant messaging program that focuses highly on user privacy. The Signal Foundation, an American nonprofit with tax-exempt status, created it. Grants and donations fully supported the development of the app, and it is based on open-source software (the code for which may be inspected by anyone interested in its security) may be inspected.
Signal works with all major mobile and desktop operating systems. Regarding security, it is currently among the top encrypted messaging apps available.
You won’t be subjected to any monitoring, advertisements, or affiliate links when using the app. It also has no ties to any significant technology firms, either directly or indirectly. Data sharing worries are, thus, greatly eased.
What is WhatsApp?
When it comes to instant messaging, WhatsApp is hands down the most used service. Although it encrypts data transfers on both ends, many people are wary about using it because Facebook owns the company that developed it.
Like Signal, WhatsApp is free and does not display adverts. Additionally, WhatsApp provides extra tools for businesses.
Whatsapp vs. Signal Privacy: Head-to-Head Comparison
Let’s compare some important features of both Whatsapp and Signal to see which of the app offers better user privacy:
To ensure the privacy of its users, Signal was the first instant messaging service to implement end-to-end encryption for all communications. Only the recipient of the message can read it through this encryption.
You might see an end-to-end encryption marker in Whatsapp chats because Whatsapp offers data encryption. However, the funny thing is that Whatsapp was among all other instant messaging apps that followed the encryption innovation that Signal introduced.
Signal has a screen lock feature for additional safety and privacy of its users. When you enable the Screen Lock feature of Signal, it will ask you for a passcode or biometric authentication (FaceID, TouchID, or fingerprint) to allow you to access the app contents. The desktop version of Signal Messenger does not have this security feature yet. It is only available for Signal mobile apps.
You can enable the Whatsapp screen lock feature from the app’s Privacy settings. Select “Screen Lock” from the “Account” submenu of the “Privacy” section of the “Settings” menu. If you enable this setting, gaining access to the WhatsApp app will necessitate a passcode, fingerprint scan, or Face ID (on iPhone X and later). You can instantly unlock WhatsApp after 1 minute, 15 minutes, or 1 hour.
In simpler words, the WhatsApp screen lock feature is almost identical to that of Signal. However, it has fewer options when it comes to time intervals.
It could be a concern if others can see the alerts you receive on your locked screen frequently. Sometimes you need to keep the messages completely hidden from others. At other times you want to see them as soon as they arrive, but you also want to keep the sender of your conversations private. Signal offers multiple options to change how your phone receives notifications. You can completely switch off the notifications or hide the sender’s name.
It also enables you to choose whether you want to receive or not receive your notification when your screen is locked. However, the only options you have are whether or not to receive notifications and whether or not to read a preview of the message. There is no way to hide your sender’s name.
Call relay option
This option is useful if you’re worried that your IP address will be revealed when calling another Signal user. When you activate this feature, your calls go through Signal’s servers instead of directly to the person you’re calling, hiding your real IP address from them. You can toggle this feature on and off in Advanced Privacy of your SIgnal’s setting menu.
This feature is not currently available in WhatsApp.
Despite Signal’s end-to-end encryption, your messages can be read on at least two devices, your smartphone, and the recipient’s device. Because of this, your messages could be compromised if even one of the devices is lost, stolen, or hacked. To prevent this, it is recommended that you delete old communications after they have served their purpose. However, that may not guarantee that the recipient will reciprocate.
You can prevent your messages from being permanently stored in their inbox using the Disappearing Messages function in Signal. This option can be configured for all chats or specific users.
Under Chat Header, select “Enable Disappearing Messages” to activate the feature for that conversation. A window will open up for you to choose a time range.
It also has a disappearing message option, though it is only enabled within a single conversation. Moreover, it does not let you choose the duration or make it dependent on whether or not the recipient reads it. When activated, communications are deleted after seven days, regardless of whether or not they have been viewed. Also, the other participant in the conversation can adjust this setting at any moment. WhatsApp’s privacy settings are where you’ll find the option to enable this.
Signal’s end-to-end encryption is implemented by use of the publicly available Signal Protocol. Signal’s end-to-end encryption extends to all modes of communication.
The metadata is also encrypted in Signal. Sealed Sender is a novel method of communication between the sender and the recipient that Signal developed to further secure users’ privacy. It amazingly ensures that not even Signal can see who is messaging whom.
In addition, Signal has fantastic privacy features that will make your messaging even safer and more private. Signal, for instance, can be secured by a password or fingerprints. Two-factor authentication is also available, as is the choice to prevent taking screenshots of the current and recently viewed displays. In addition, Signal just recently released a new option to automatically obscure faces before delivering photographs.
Signal also uses a default 4-digit passcode to encrypt all local files. Moreover, you can make an encrypted local copy if you so choose. A new feature of the software enables users to make secure group calls to one another.
As mentioned earlier, WhatsApp also offers end-to-end encryption. Plus, WhatsApp’s E2E feature works with all supported communication modes. WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption for all your shared content, including messages, calls, images, and videos. It is worth noting that WhatsApp employs the E2E technology created by Open Whisper Systems, the same that Signal uses.
WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption for all conversations but doesn’t encrypt the backups (local & cloud). It also doesn’t encrypt the metadata that carries the data between nodes. This is a common complaint about WhatsApp’s security system. Metadata does not reveal the contents of your texts, but it does tell authorities who you texted and for how long.
Protection of Metadata
Whenever you send something out in a messaging app, be it a text or an image, you send the relevant information in the form of metadata. Metadata includes information like who the communication was sent to, the time of delivery, and more. Metadata is the stamp you slap on top of the encrypted mailbox.
One can learn a lot just by reading the label, without even needing to open the package. Most apps don’t encrypt metadata, but Signal does, making the content of your communication safer and more private.
Unfortunately, WhatsApp doesn’t encrypt or protect metadata. So, third parties can collect information like the recipient and the time of the message. This is one of the most critical WhatsApp privacy concerns.
Messaging services can access your phone’s data, more than just the text messages and metadata you send and receive. Your device details, phone number, avatar, contacts, location, and media are all part of this. Signal treats this matter with a significant difference. The only thing Signal needs is your phone number. They won’t make any effort to connect the number with an identity.
It uses its own servers to keep track of forwarded messages and encrypted media. It keeps track of how frequently you use the application and how long you spend talking to each contact. Third-party service providers have access to this data following the company’s privacy policies.
- Which Company Owns Signal App?
The Signal Technology Foundation owns Signal. The company’s non-profit status means it relies on financial support from its patrons. Moxie Marlinspike, one of the founders, previously led Twitter’s security team. The end-to-end encryption technology he created for Signal was later taken up by other major instant messaging services such as WhatsApp and Skype.
- Which Company Owns Whatsapp?
Meta, formerly known as Facebook, now owns WhatsApp. From what we can gather from their privacy policies, WhatsApp will likely be merged with other Meta products. It entails the exchange of data to improve the quality and promotion of their services.
Even though Signal beats other messaging apps in privacy and security, it is somewhat left behind regarding features. However, everything significant is present.
Using Signal, you can send messages, make phone conversations, and even make video calls—all with complete privacy thanks to end-to-end encryption. In addition, you can create groups, but you can’t send out messages to all of your contacts at once. In addition, Signal now allows for group calls, a previously unavailable feature within the program.
It includes the same functionality as similar services, such as the capacity to send an image that can only be viewed once. Signal’s best function is the “Note to Self” section. You can send notes without making a group of one, as WhatsApp requires. Unlike other messaging apps, Signal has this function built-in, so you may take notes while chatting with loved ones.
In addition, Signal has a robust photo editor that allows you to hide faces and sensitive information, switch to a dark mode, remove outdated messages with a single tap, and more.
Emojis and privacy stickers are included, but they are less extensive than in WhatsApp. Overall, Signal provides some best privacy protections, but more is needed to satisfy customers who seek a wide range of customizing choices.
It has just about every function a user might want. Group chats with around 256 people are supported. Sending a message to a large group of people simultaneously is also possible.
Users can have one-on-one or group video or audio calls. There can only be up to 8 people in a video chat at once.
Furthermore, WhatsApp has its unique function in Whatsapp status, which Signal lacks. Users adore this function since it enables them to share their innermost sentiments with their nearest and dearest. Whatsapp is becoming more than simply a messaging service; it’s also a social networking platform in this regard.
Moving forward, Whatsapp allows you to send a wide variety of files to one another, though there are size restrictions. The size restriction for media files is 16 MB, while files can be about 100 MB in size. Also, you can broadcast your current location to contacts in real time.
Since WhatsApp is aimed at the general public, it integrates flawlessly with cloud storage solutions like iCloud and Google Drive for backup and restoration. The best part is cloud backup costs nothing. Additionally, WhatsApp now has a night mode option.
Signal vs. WhatsApp: What’s Recommended?
By now, you would have had a clear idea to answer the question, “is the Signal app safe or Whatsapp?”
Since there are a lot of red flags around Whatsapp, it’s better to use Signal for your daily communication. Privacy needs to be taken very seriously, and we often neglect that the apps or devices we use can put us at risk.
Since Meta acquired Whatsapp, concerns about user privacy have always been raised. However, the smart move is to refrain from debating over the facts and opt for a more secure and reliable alternative. This is why Signal is the most recommended instant messaging app that cares about users’ privacy and protects their data.
Should I leave WhatsApp for Signal?
If you are more concerned about your privacy, then yes should leave Whatsapp for Signal. The problem with Whatsapp is that it does not protect users’ metadata, but Signal does. This is why Signal is more reliable and safe than Whatsapp.
What are the disadvantages of the Signal app?
One of the disadvantages of the Signal app is that it does not allow data sharing like Whatsapp. This is why it does not have a large user base than Whatsapp.
Can Signal be hacked?
No, Signal cannot be hacked since it uses end-to-end encryption and does not store any user information on its servers.
Author: Arsalan Rathore
Arsalan Rathore is a tech geek who loves to pen down his thoughts and views on cybersecurity, technology innovation, entertainment, and social issues. He likes sharing his thoughts about the emerging tech trends in the market and also loves discussing online privacy issues.