Last week ExpressVPN reviewed the two biggest players in instant messaging, Whatsapp and Telegram.
But there are plenty of other messaging apps out there, some of which with even more reach than Telegram. However, most are severely lacking in security, features, or reach so don’t hold up against either Whatsapp or Telegram, at least in ExpressVPN’s opinion.
All that said, Here’s ExpressVPN’s review of the best of the rest.
Formerly called RedPhone, Signal is the darling of the information security community — but has found little reach outside it. Calls and chats are encrypted with the same protocol that Whatsapp uses, but unlike with Whatsapp, the entire infrastructure is open-source. Sadly ExpressVPN found the iOS app slow and buggy, raising concerns about its security and integrity.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) November 2, 2015
Apple’s integrated messaging platform also encrypts all messages by default but does not let you verify your keys. Currently, iMessage is limited to iPhone and iPad, though there are rumors it’s coming to Android soon. Until an official Android application is available, keep away from all the unverified copycat versions!
Related to iMessage is Facetime, which lets you make encrypted phone and video calls. Facetime is the only application that allows you to have an encrypted video chat, and It works beautifully.
By far the most popular messaging app in China, it’s also taking South East Asia by storm, and now has over 700 million active users worldwide. The app has tons of features, even allowing you to send money, but chats are unencrypted and easily available to Chinese law enforcement.
People use WeChat to follow celebrities and news, make doctor’s appointments, and find dates. WeChat has been criticized for censoring certain images and comments even when used outside of China.
Founded by privacy and security advocates in San Francisco in 2012, Wickr was one of the first end-to-end encrypted mobile apps. Messages are encrypted by default, and the company undergoes regular security audits. Sadly it’s not open-source.
Skype used to be a peer-to-peer video, audio, and chat platform that encrypted all communications and protected them from prying eyes. Sometime between Skype’s acquisition by Ebay in 2005 and its integration into Microsoft in 2011, these security features disappeared. In 2013 Microsoft was caught liberally sharing contents of Skype conversations with the NSA, as part of the Snowden revelations. However, it remains a popular messenger, especially for businesses.
Viber has about 100 million monthly active users and is primarily positioned as a competitor to Skype. Historically, Viber has never offered advanced security features but finally delivered end-to-end encryption in April 2016.
The key verification worked well in the quick ExpressVPN test, and the user experience of trusting and verifying contacts might even be superior to that of Whatsapp.
Line is a popular messaging app in Asia, with over 200 million active users — mostly in Korea and Japan. The app was developed in response to an earthquake in 2011 when major telecommunication lines were cut, but the Internet remained online. Line made stickers popular, which often feature Line’s group of signature mascots, called Line friends.
These mascots proved so popular Line opened a chain of shops which sell toys and other merchandise around the Line friends.
Line’s security was severely lacking in its early days but has since improved. In October 2015, Line promised to roll out end-to-end-encryption as an opt-in feature, but it is still not available for everyone. Since you can only use Line on a single device (making it more secure than multi-device messengers), ExpressVPN wishes Line would make the next leap and offer full encryption by default.
KakaoTalk is somewhat of a mix between WeChat and Line and is mostly popular in Korea, where it also has popular mascots which are sold in various forms. The messenger also has extensive features, such as walkie-talkie, games, and conference talks.
While Kakao Talk does have a “secret chat” feature, like Telegram, ExpressVPN are not entirely sure how it works, and the Korean government has been caught reading messages spread via the app in the past.
Jabber and OTR are, technically speaking, not a messenger. They are two protocols that when stacked on top of each other provide what ExpressVPN regard as the gold standard for secure chatting today. Plenty of apps support Jabber with OTR, such as Pidgin for Windows/Linux or Adium for Mac. There is also the newly released Tor Messenger and Chat Secure for your mobile phone.
Sadly Jabber/OTR does not function very smoothly on your mobile phone, as the protocol needs an almost continuous connection between you and your peer. The lack of features, even as basic as sending attachments, can also be frustrating. However, if you need a protocol that can be trusted to keep out even the most powerful of adversaries, Jabber/OTR is the best choice.
Jabber/OTR is also the only solution that can be set up anonymously. Check out ExpressVPN’s guide to see how!
In project management speak, ‘slack’ is the time that a task can be delayed without delaying the entire project. The software Slack markets itself a collaboration tool for teams, rather than a messenger, but at its core, it is actually a messenger service.
Slack integrates well with other tools like Google Drive or Github, and comes with a large variety of bots, but it does not offer any end-to-end encryption capabilities. Slack is popular among software developer communities and startups, but not much beyond that.
Allo was announced by Google in May 2016 and will be released throughout the coming summer. Allo uses “advanced machine learning” to assist you with your chats, such as drafting replies and extracting valuable information for your calendar.
These features rely on Google being able to read all of your chats, and so it comes as no surprise that end-to-end encryption (the same protocol that Signal and Whatsapp use) will only be available as an opt-in, but not by default.
Google’s decision to disable end-to-end encryption by default in its new #Allo chat app is dangerous, and makes it unsafe. Avoid it for now.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) May 19, 2016
Snapchat gives us the illusion that what we do online is not permanent and is used as a safe space to goof around, send drunk messages, and expose our flesh. It’s assumed that the naughty pics — an embarrassing, but funny, break from our disciplined and socially restricted world — will disappear shortly after the message is consumed. Sadly, this is not the case.
Snapchat’s servers are not only able to read and see everything you send late at night to your friends, but they also allegedly keep messages forever — even after they show as deleted to you. But the augmented reality features are really cool, aren’t they?
Blackberry Messenger (BBM)
Blackberry was one of the first smartphone manufacturers with a sizeable following and users, for the first time could cheaply communicate with each other over text. Messages were encrypted, but unless you paid for the enterprise upgrade, Blackberry had access to the key, which the Canadian police (and presumably others) accessed as early as 2010.
Blackberry Messenger (BBM) is now also available on other platforms, such as iOS and Android, but has not been able to catch up with its competitors in terms of adoption and features.
ExpressVPN just wanted to let you know that ICQ still exists. Founded almost exactly 20 years ago in Israel, it is now owned by Russian internet tycoon Mail.Ru, where it still seems to have some following.
Judging from ExpressVPN’s quick test, ICQ still does not support basic TLS/SSL encryption, making it an absolute disaster in the author’s view (who can, surprisingly, still remember their ICQ number and password… and also found one old contact online at the time of writing!)
In fairness, you could easily use the OTR encryption protocol on top of ICQ, which would “only” expose your metadata for the entire world to see.
Pick the Best Messenger App for You
There’s a lot of messengers to choose from, but really, the big two of Whatsapp and Telegram are the best bet, in terms of all round reach, security, and features.
If you are concerned about the privacy and security of your mobile device, have a look at ExpressVPN’s mobile security guide.