Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messengers, Telegram, and Signal allow people to communicate with each other regardless of the device they have or how often they use it. All you need is Wi-Fi or mobile data, and you can text or call for as long as you want. It’s an excellent way for people to keep in touch with friends and family from anywhere in the world.
While most of these apps are free to use, many still come at a price. Developers take your private conversations and turn that information into a profit. Learning about the data messaging apps take from you is an essential step towards controlling your personal information.
Are Messaging Apps Private?
Messaging apps are not private.
Many apps purposely take information from your conversations and use it for unrelated purposes. There is a lot of truth to the concept that, once something is online, it’s there forever.
There’s even some evidence that apps record your conversations for other purposes.
Why Do Apps Collect Data?
There are many reasons why apps collect the data of their users.
Sometimes developers use these details to enhance user experience. Having some information about your location, address book, and phone behavior may help optimize your app use. That’s certainly what most services will claim they collect data for.
Developers use this information to tailor an experience that fits best with your lifestyle. They learn more about the features you use and who you interact with to suggest the best services you’re most likely to use. While this is helpful, it should not be seen as a purely altruistic function.
By learning more about what features a user favors, they know how to push monetized features to you. They can even look through your address book and convince you to invite your friends to use the app. Expanding its userbase helps the company grow.
Sometimes data collection is not just about activities within an app, though. This information is often sold or exploited for marketing purposes. There are even arguments the data can influence presidential elections.
Do Messaging Apps Influence Targeted Ads?
Have you ever talked with your friends about needing to buy something new, and suddenly an ad for the mentioned product appeared on social media minutes later?
This phenomenon is more common than ever as many companies are relatively open about their targeted ad practices. How exactly do platforms learn about your potential desires? They monitor your activity.
While it seems obvious information you post publicly is a free-for-all, it is sometimes scary to learn just how closely apps keep track of you. There is hardly any privacy on most social media platforms.
Some apps listen to your conversations and search your messages for keywords to determine what you want.
Even if you hardly ever use messaging apps, they collect your demographic data and make rough estimates about your desires. It shocks many to learn how much information apps are storing. And yet we permit them to do it.
What Data Do Popular Apps Collect?
When you initially downloaded an app, you probably got a pop-up explaining the app’s policies. There, platforms are legally obligated to mention what data they take from you. While they sometimes use vague wording, they do spell the information out for you.
It is tempting to skip through the walls of text, but it’s worth a read if you want control of your data.
Every app has a different policy that may change over the years. Learning which apps take what data helps you make an informed decision on which messaging service you should use.
Unsurprisingly, Facebook Messenger is the least secure messaging app popularly used. It stores a lot of information about users and faces harsh criticism for its lack of privacy. Both Messenger and its parent company collect a lot of information that can later be used for advertising purposes.
While Facebook Messenger has a rather extensive list of details it collects, there are a few especially alarming pieces of information worth highlighting.
This data includes; physical address, full name, financial information, search history, phone number, device ID, browsing history, advertising data, gameplay content, payment information, purchase history, iMessage, phone number search history, audio data, fitness, health, and customer support information.
Like Instagram and Messenger, WhatsApp is also owned by Facebook. Consequentially, it collects a significant amount of data from its users.
This data includes, but is not limited to: purchase history, advertising data, crash details, payment information, device ID, and performance data.
Messages are at least encrypted, so are secure while in transit—though not at endpoints.
Telegram is relatively private, collecting only your contact information, contacts, and user ID. While it’s incredibly secure compared to the previously mentioned apps, it is still not the most secure app available.
The only information Signal uses is your phone number.
And even that is only for the sake of registration and is not linked to your identity in any significant way.
What Is the Most Secure Messaging App?
As of now, Signal is the most secure popular messaging app. The app doesn’t collect any more data than it needs to and never exploits your data for marketing purposes.
In addition to not collecting any data, the company is very transparent about the services offered. It is open-source software, meaning developers publicly published the entire code for the software, so there are no secrets.
They use end-to-end encryption to keep your messages protected from anyone you don’t mean to send them to. They even encrypt video calls, video messages, and audio messages.
Is It Safe to Use Messaging Apps?
While messaging apps harvest some of your data, they are generally safe to use.
Platforms exploit data from you for marketing purposes, but you shouldn’t have to worry that your private gossip sessions or embarrassing tales will be a public post someday. Metadata, i.e. not private communications, is collected above all else.
If you have concerns over your data security and want to maintain your privacy as a matter of principle, there are great messaging app alternatives for you to try. With enough interest in protecting individual privacy, more secure apps will gain popularity and may replace exploitative software.
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