You use messaging apps on your phone every day, maybe even multiple times a day, to stay in touch with friends, loved ones, and even co-workers or your boss.
Currently, an estimated 3 billion people use messaging apps to communicate with others. But not all messaging apps prioritize your privacy, therefore putting you at risk of your message content being seen.
Isn’t it safer to use email instead? While you might assume that emails are safer than messaging apps, this isn’t the case by default. You will have to encrypt your emails in order to make them safe.
Sometimes email is just not practical – nothing beats the convenience of messaging apps!
If you want to make your messages private, here’s the most secure messaging app to use in 2021 as well as four alternatives, so you can go about your business without worrying about your privacy being compromised.
Best Overall: Signal
“Speak freely” is the message that Signal has for its users, which is quite an exciting idea if you consider how privacy concerns have been dominating our messaging apps in recent years.
Let’s see how Signal works and what it has to offer.
- Encryption: End-To-End
- Compatibility: Android, iPhone, iPad, Windows, Mac, Linux
- Free: Yes
- Signal makes use of leading end-to-end encryption that ensures your conversation can be as secure as possible. This ensures that no one can access your messages or listen to your calls, which makes it one of the most secure messaging apps on the market.
- Signal is an open-source project. This means that you won’t be bombarded with affiliate marketers, ads, or secret tracking.
- Interestingly, Signal doesn’t even have the keys to decrypt messages, which means that it will never gain access to your content.
- Signal gives you the opportunity to make your sent and received messages disappear after a set amount of time. This is great for conversations that contain sensitive content.
- Signal is low on data storage, and this is because it only stores metadata that’s required for the app to work.
- To further increase your privacy, the app enables you to set a password so you can lock it. This means that if someone else gets access to your phone, you won’t have to worry that your messages will be read.
- Signal has introduced a blur tool that you can use to blur faces or even sensitive information in documents. You can use it very easily, simply by accessing the camera icon in the app, then choosing a photo from your library and blurring out what you don’t want to see.
- If you’re using Signal on your cell phone, you can make use of the app’s “view-once” feature. This deletes a video or photo from your messages once the other party has seen it.
- This most encrypted messaging app offers a PIN for its customers to use. This is valuable to protect you from identity theft because criminals can register your phone number on the app and you want to prevent that. To activate this feature, simply click on your profile icon and go to the privacy settings.
- Some people who have used Signal on their iOS devices have reported having to deal with bugs.
- You need to input your telephone number when signing up to the app.
Runner Up: Telegram
With so many people migrating from WhatsApp to Telegram for greater privacy, there’s much to be said about how this app can make you feel more secure.
Let’s see what the app has to offer you and why it’s one of the most secure text messaging apps.
- Encryption: End-To-End
- Compatibility: Android, iOS, MacOS, Windows, Linux
- Free: Yes
- Telegram keeps you safe by making use of a two-chat system. This protects users with a standard encrypted cloud storage system that’s based on MTProto server-client encryption.
- If you make use of Telegram’s secret chat feature, you’ll be glad to know that these chats are not recorded on the app’s servers.
- You can also make use of self-destructing messages when you use the secret chat.
- As a bonus, the secret chats are completely separate from the Telegram cloud. They are also encrypted, which makes Telegram the most secure messaging app for greater privacy.
- Besides privacy, Telegram has other notable features that contribute to its popularity: it’s cloud-based so it offers unlimited storage and that means you never have to back up or restore your chat history.
- While Signal applies end-to-end encryption to messages on the app, Telegram doesn’t do this by default. You have to make use of the app’s secret chat feature in order to activate this privacy option and enable encryption.
- Although it’s considered to be the most secure messaging app, Telegram collects your IP address. This means that your contact list, user ID, and phone number can be linked back to you.
- Telegram has a feature that lets you see people who are nearby, and if you decide to share your location they will be aware of your account.
These days it seems like everyone’s on WhatsApp. As of December 2020, over 100 billion messages were said to be sent via WhatsApp every day. But how secure is it? Here’s what you need to know.
- Encryption: End-To-End
- Compatibility: Android, iPhone, MacOS, Windows
- Free: Yes
- This best messaging app ensures end-to-end encryption for all conversations that occur on the app. This prevents people from being able to access your messages, including WhatsApp employees themselves.
- You don’t have to bear unwanted ads that show up in the messaging app. This makes using WhatsApp a joy.
- You can use various features on the messaging app to stay as private as possible. You can enable Face ID, Touch ID, or Android fingerprint lock to secure your WhatsApp account.
- You can choose if you want your contacts to see if you’ve read your messages or not. This gives you the chance to leave them on “read” without people feeling offended, while also ensuring that you don’t feel monitored if you don’t reply to the messages right away.
- You can also decide if you want your contacts to view that you’re online or not. You can choose between letting your contacts, everyone, or no one see when last you were on the app.
- WhatsApp doesn’t see your shared location, and neither does Facebook. This is important to know since Facebook owns WhatsApp.
- For greater privacy, you can choose to let your messages on WhatsApp disappear.
- You’re allowed to download your data. This will show you what information WhatsApp has on your account, and you can do this from inside the app. Simply go to “settings,” choose “account,” and then “request account info.”
- WhatsApp collects more metadata on its users than competing apps such as Signal do. Its encryption doesn’t protect users from data collection.
On the Threema homepage, you’ll see it states, “The messenger that puts security and privacy first.” This is instantly appealing, but how does Threema fare as a secure messaging app? Let’s find out by taking a closer look at its features.
- Encryption: End-To-End
- Compatibility: Android, iPhone, iPad
- Free: No
- If you hate having to sign up to messaging apps with your contact information, you’ll love that Threema avoids this. You don’t have to enter your phone number or email address in order to set up an account. This increases your privacy.
- The app stores people’s messages on their devices instead of on the Threema server. In addition, your public keys are located on devices instead of on the servers for the ultimate protection.
- You might like the idea of storing data on your device, but what if you lose your device? Threema has thought ahead to this scenario and has created Threema Safe. This is a system that backs up your unique Threema ID as well as your data.
- You don’t need a SIM card in order to use Threema, which further contributes to making it one of the top encrypted messaging apps. Threema is not linked to your mobile number, so you can use it with another device, such as a tablet, as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection.
- Threema produces as little metadata as possible and this gets eliminated once it has achieved its purpose. With less metadata about your online activities, you’ll have less of a threat to your privacy.
- One of the biggest drawbacks of Threema is that it isn’t free, unlike many other messaging apps. You will have to pay a small fee to be able to use it.
- Fewer people use Threema as compared to other, more popular, messaging apps.
This is another messaging app that you might not have heard of, but it’s earning lots of popularity in Asia and becoming an alternative to messaging apps such as WhatsApp because it’s so much more than just a messaging app.
Let’s check it out in greater detail.
- Encryption: End-To-End
- Compatibility: Android, iOS, Windows
- Free: Yes
- Line offers users free voice-over IP calls, instant messaging, and video calls.
- The app gives you many features that you’ll find on social networking sites, such as the ability to share multimedia files, and you can also record video or voice at any time.
- In addition to the above, Line offers many fun features. These include the chance to play games and share animated stickers with your friends. These stickers hail from a variety of franchises and series. For greater convenience, Line predicts the stickers you might want to use so that you can chat faster without missing out on using fun stickers.
- Line has a feature called “Line Meeting.” This allows you to have a video chat with a group of people, and up to 200 people can join the chat!
- Live Meeting also allows you to watch videos, such as on YouTube, with other people in your chat. This comes with filters and other fun effects to make your chats even more enjoyable.
- When it comes to privacy, Line offers users a hidden chat feature. You can set a time after which the message you have sent in a chat will be erased. This is useful if you’re sending sensitive information that you don’t want to get into the wrong hands.
- Just like with other top messaging apps, Line has end-to-end encryption. This means that encryption keys are stored on the users’ devices instead of on the server. So, you can happily chat to people via Line without worrying about your private information being given to a third party or being stored on the server. The encryption also scrambles the content of chats which further increases your privacy when using the app.
- Line makes use of the Elliptic Curve Diffie-Helman (ECDH) key agreement protocol. This basically ensures that your shared message encryption key is only viewed by people who have access to the key, so ultimately every message you send on Line will be encrypted with a random, unique key to boost your privacy.
- It requires you to register with your mobile number.
- It’s not as popular as other apps, which can make it impractical to use.
Most Secure Messaging Apps FAQ
Now that we’ve looked at some of the safest, most private messaging apps on the market, you might have some questions about various aspects of messaging app security.
So, let’s explore some of the most important information.
Does Apple Read Your Texts?
If you’re using Apple’s iMessage service to connect with others, you will be glad to know that it makes use of end-to-end encryption, just like all the safe messaging apps we’ve reviewed in this buying guide.
This guarantees that only you and whoever you’re chatting with will be able to view the messages in your chat. In addition to your chats, your files, videos, and photos are all encrypted.
Apple’s FaceTime service uses end-to-end encryption for all video and voice calls. Based on all this information, Apple and its employees can’t view your private message content.
That should make you feel secure. However, there is a privacy concern that has surfaced about iMessage, and it’s worth knowing about.
If you’re using iCloud Backups on your device, this can make your chats much less private.
The reason for this is because when you have iCloud Backup enabled, iCloud messages are encrypted and backed up to iCloud and, finally, stored on the Apple servers.
The problem with this process is that Apple gets a copy of the key that was used to encrypt your backup!
So, technically, someone, such as an Apple employee, would be able to gain access to your messages on the Apple servers because the backups aren’t end-to-end encrypted.
Now, if the company’s servers are compromised or someone hacks into your iCloud account, then your messages will be available to them.
Based on the above, you might wonder why iCloud backups aren’t encrypted as that would solve the privacy issue.
There are some important reasons why Apple doesn’t encrypt iCloud backups.
- If you lose your Apple ID password, having backups encrypted would mean that you wouldn’t be able to get access to those backups. To recover your account, Apple needs to ensure that it has the key to unlock the backups and prevent the loss of data.
- If iCloud backups are encrypted, then the FBI won’t have access to iPhone user data, which is important during serious cases. In fact, Apple was going to encrypt its iCloud backups but then didn’t go through with it because the FBI complained about it.
Can Police See Deleted Text Messages?
You might wonder if the police would ever be able to recover and see texts that you’ve deleted. The truth is that law enforcement authorities are capable of retrieving deleted messages on your phone.
Thanks to forensic analysts, even if you’ve wiped your phone police will still be able to access the data that was previously on it.
This includes photos, videos, browser history, and even calendar events. To be able to do this, forensic analysts make use of special tools.
Even if the phone is destroyed, forensic analysts can still access the data that was previously on it, even though the task will be a bit more difficult.
But, it’s thanks to memory chips in the phone that can be retrieved and studied, which makes this possible.
Are Deleted Texts Really Gone?
If you’ve deleted texts by accident, you might wonder if there’s any way to recover them. The good news is that your texts might not be gone forever.
To understand why here’s what you need to know about the process that occurs when texts are deleted from a device.
When you delete a message, the data that made up the text doesn’t disappear immediately.
It has a code that’s marked with a tombstone which basically indicates what data can be overwritten.
When there’s enough new information to fill the device memory, then the text will be gone – but until then it will still be present on your device.
If you have a SIM card that stored the message, it could have space for 30 or more deleted texts.
If, on the other hand, the messages get stored directly on your smartphone, you could have hundreds of deleted messages that are still on the device.
While you might not be able to retrieve the deleted texts on the device, you could use software that lets your PC read their data from the phone’s SIM card.
There is also the option of contacting your cell phone carrier to get your hands on the deleted messages because some of them will store the data for months or even years.
For example, text messages are said to be stored for three to five days by Verizon, while other phone companies like T-mobile don’t keep messages for any period of time.
Is It Illegal For Parents To Read Text Messages?
If you’re a concerned parent who wants to check your children’s text messages, you might wonder if this is legal or not.
If your child is underage, then looking through their text messages is not illegal.
You’re responsible for their wellbeing, so it’s your parental right to keep them safe. And, as you know, there are many dangers online and in messaging apps that can affect your children, such as cyberbullying.
Still, it’s worth knowing that the law doesn’t have clear rules when it comes to parents monitoring their children.
It’s worth bearing in mind that children are not considered to be legal adults until they reach the age of 21, so until that time it’s up to the parents to look after and discipline their children.
That said, there are some moral issues that come up concerning monitoring your children. You might, for example, feel guilty that you’re tracking your children’s private cell phones.
Therefore, it could be a better idea to be transparent with your children about how you want to monitor their cell phone usage, such as with the use of software, and why this is important.
You should feel secure when you make use of messaging apps. Your privacy is important, so choose the most secure messaging app from our list of reviews and ensure that you’re not leaving your personal data and sensitive information in the wrong hands.
We’ve also featured some important information you should know about messaging apps and privacy, such as if it’s legal to monitor your children’s phones and if authorities can retrieve deleted text messages.