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WhatsApp alternatives: Messenger at a glance
In addition to SMS and e-mail, there are also other messenger apps as alternatives to WhatsApp. The consumer advice centers generally recommend using messengers that neither use news content nor other data of their users for advertising purposes or pass them on to other companies.
Which messengers we looked at - and which not
At the beginning of 2021, we looked at various apps from various providers and compared basic functions and statements from the operators on data protection. We only considered commercial apps that
- are available for the most popular operating systems (iOS and Android),
- were available in the official stores for Android and iOS at the time of the test,
- are considered pure messengers (i.e. no apps with additional messaging functions such as Instagram or TikTok),
- Offer end-to-end encryption at least adjustable and
- measured by the number of users have achieved a certain distribution in Germany or their operators are based in Germany.
The app that is particularly popular with young people Snapchat falls out because they don't have any End-to-end encryption offers. Message content could thus be read by the provider, for example. The end-to-end encrypted service iMessage is again only available for Apple devices.
We did not take into account aspects besides the data protection regulations, for example: How fast is the app and how stable are the servers? How user-friendly is the app designed in detail?
Messenger that can be used anonymously
When it comes to the question of anonymous use, the question here is not whether you can remain anonymous to other users, but whether this is also possible with the provider. In our comparison is Threema the only messenger that can be used without any personal information.
We took Hoccer into account in the comparison at the beginning of 2020. The app was discontinued in mid-May 2020. The operators write that the Corona crisis hit them on a personnel and financial level.
Threema assigns a randomly generated ID under which you are displayed to others. You can enter your own name if you wish. The provider only saves your telephone number and / or e-mail address on request and in each case encrypted ("hashed") in order to make it easier to find and recognize. In addition, the phone numbers or email addresses of your contacts can be compared to find friends. For this purpose, the data from your own address book is not stored permanently, but a comparison is made using a temporary hash (an encryption or pseudonymization technique). Threema only receives the address book with friends' email addresses and phone numbers anonymously and promises to never write them on a data carrier and to delete them immediately.
Messenger with user registration
In its data protection declaration, Facebook states that "content, communications and other information" are recorded. This also includes exchanging messages and communicating with others. According to its own information, Facebook uses the information, among other things, for the selection of advertising that is geared towards user interests. Even if encryption is activated in the individual chat, so-calledMetadata that can also be used for personalization (e.g. when, how often and for how long you chat with whom).
Successor to the SIMSme messenger app from Deutsche Post. Ginlo.net GmbH is based in Munich and states in the data protection declaration not to transfer any data to servers outside the European Economic Area. To use the mobile phone number must be given; Access to saved contacts is possible, but not absolutely necessary. End-to-end encryption is standard. In each chat, the self-destruction in several time levels can be selected separately for individual messages.
If you want to use Signal, you cannot avoid giving your own telephone number. A username is also required - but here the messenger is also satisfied with the specification of a pseudonym or even an emoji. If you do not allow access to the contacts, you have to type in the recipient's phone number by hand. All chats are end-to-end encrypted by default. The encryption technology provider, Open Whisper Systems, does not provide any data protection declaration in German. The company is based in the USA. The disappearance of individual messages can be activated in different time levels for each chat and then affects all future messages in this chat.
To use Skype, you need a Microsoft account. This requires an email address or a mobile phone number. You can also have Microsoft set up an email address for you. You can set whether other Skype users can see your personal data. End-to-end encryption is only available when you are having a "private conversation". This is only available for another chat participant and not for groups. The content of normal chats is saved by Skype on servers. However, Microsoft does not explicitly explain how this data is stored (whether encrypted or not) and where the relevant servers are located in neither the data protection declaration nor the Skype Help.
Wire cannot be used without providing a name and a cell phone number or email address. Since Wire can be used across the board on smartphones and computers, message content is cached in encrypted form on servers until it is delivered. The messenger synchronizes the contacts by using encrypted phone numbers from its own contact book. However, this is voluntary - Wire can also be used without access to the address book. In each chat, the self-destruction in several time levels can be selected separately for individual messages.
Possible third-party services, e.g. from YouTube or Spotify, are also pointed out in the data protection declaration. The respective providers are responsible for their possible use of data. These features should be avoided if you do not want companies to potentially receive data.
In addition to the messengers tested here, there are also free messenger apps as an alternative to WhatsApp & Co. In contrast to the closed systems in which only users of the same service can communicate with each other and are thus dependent on one provider, the alternatives work similarly to E -Mail services. For this you usually need your own server or an account on a server (comparable to an e-mail address with a provider) and also a suitable messenger app (comparable to the program with which you receive your e-mails and send).
The messengers are technically based on a standard protocol (mostly XMPP or Matrix), which enables messages to be exchanged across different messenger apps that work with the same protocol. Interlocutors do not need to have the same app installed to communicate with each other. Messenger based on XMPP is available for Android, for example Conversations, Quicksy or Yaxim, for iOS, for example ChatSecure, Monal or Siskin. For Matrix, for example, there is the messenger element (formerly Riot) for both Android and iOS.
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