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What is the best chat app?

Signal and Telegram app icons.
Primakov / Shutterstock.com

In early 2021, Signal and Telegram will be at the top of the app store charts. Both chat apps promise more privacy than WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and SMS. But there are some major differences between the two. Here’s what you need to know ̵

1; and which one to use.

What Signal and Telegram have in common

Signal and Telegram both advertise themselves as private and safe. Neither is owned by a major technology company. Signal is owned by a non-profit organization, while Telegram is owned by a for-profit company.

Both Signal and Telegram are chat apps with all the standard features from stickers to photo and file transfer to voice and video calls.

Signal and Telegram both offer apps for iPhone, iPad and Android. Each room is free and a phone number is all you need to sign up. Both offer optional desktop apps so you can chat on a Windows PC, Mac or Linux system, giving you the option to chat on your computer using the full keyboard.

Signal has better privacy features than Telegram

Signal apps showing the conversation list and conversation.

Signal is built from the ground up for privacy, and it shows. All calls and other communications on Signal are end-to-end encrypted between devices running Signal. The company in charge of Signal, the Signal Foundation, couldn’t even see your messages if it wanted to.

Telegram offers optional end-to-end encryption. You must start a “secret chat”. In Signal, everything is a secret chat – default and always. All Telegram messages are encrypted between you and the Telegram server, but the company responsible for Telegram could technically view your messages on its server if it wanted, unless you start a ‘secret chat’.

In Telegram, you also cannot have ‘Secret chat’ for a group. You can only get end-to-end encryption in conversations between two people. Unlike Telegram, Signal offers encrypted group chats.

By default, all your Signal calls are stored only on your device. In Telegram, they are stored on Telegram’s servers and can be synchronized between your devices. (You can still use Signal between multiple devices and sync messages from one device to another. But you can’t just log into Signal on the Internet and find all your conversations there.)

Signal is completely open-source – both the code for the Signal clients and the code for the Signal server can be found on GitHub. The code for Telegram’s apps is open-source, but Telegram’s server software is not open-source.

Some security researchers have argued that Signal’s encryption protocol is better and bulletproof than Telegram’s MTProto encryption protocol, although this is a complicated and contentious topic.

The Signal app was developed by the Signal Foundation, a non-profit organization founded through donations. Run by a for-profit company, Telegram is struggling with a variety of money-making plans, including a fateful cryptocurrency offering.

Signal also has other built-in privacy features, including the ability to automatically blur faces in the photos you send.

RELATED: What is signal and why is everyone using it?

Telegram has a number of advantages that the signal does not provide

The Telegram app on an iPhone.

While Signal has the obvious advantage when it comes to privacy, Telegram offers a variety of convenience features that Signal does not.

In Telegram you can have up to 200,000 in a group chat. You can have up to 1000 people in Signal. In Telegram you can transfer files of up to 2 GB. In Signal, you can only transfer files with a maximum size of 100MB.

Telegram offers cloud message synchronization – you can even log into Telegram on the web and continue your conversations. That’s a tradeoff – unlike in Signal, where your conversations are all stored locally on your devices, the conversations are all stored on Telegram’s servers. (Unless you start a “secret chat”.)

Telegram allows you to add bots to conversations, but it means adding bots to conversations to have less private encryption. Signal doesn’t have bots that can communicate with conversations, which guarantees privacy, but doesn’t give you the option to use bots.

Overall, the Telegram app also has a glossier interface, with more sticker packs available, animated stickers, and customizable background images for your conversations. Starting January 11, 2021, Signal is working on adding many of these features.

Signal vs. Telegram: Which One Should You Use?

Signal and Telegram top the free app charts from the Apple App Store.

If you are serious about maximum privacy for your communications, you should choose Signal. It has been built from the ground up to be as private as possible by default. It’s clear why (as of early January 2021) Signal Telegram is beating on the App Store charts.

If some of Telegram’s features appeal to you – for example, if you want bots, very large group chats, or larger file transfers, that’s a good argument to use Telegram. You may be fine with storing all your conversations on a cloud server for convenience, but just want to get away from Facebook – that’s a good argument for using Telegram.

Which service you end up using, of course, depends on which service your friends, family, colleagues and other people you want to talk to. You could even use both to talk to different people. Feel free to try both.

Ultimately, Signal or Telegram beats WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger when it comes to privacy. Neither app is linked to Facebook like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Both Signal and WhatsApp are much more secure than SMS, allowing your mobile carrier to see every message you send.

Of course, both Signal and Telegram change over time and get new features. It’s worth doing your own research and playing with them to see what you prefer to do.

For privacy-minded users, the big difference is that everything is always end-to-end encrypted in Signal, while Telegram offers end-to-end encryption as an optional feature that you don’t need to use.

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