Toolbox 5, articles to read and try
Duration: approx. 30 min
Lesson: Which are trustworthy messenging services? What is the difference between centralized and decentralized? Try one of the recommendations.

The standard for communication

Instant messengers, private services for short messages with text, voice, image or video, have long since replaced e-mail and SMS.

WhatsApp – the messenger that is installed on the vast majority of smartphones worldwide has become the standard for communication for many people.

Since you only have to register with the service once with your cell phone number, you are immediately connected to everyone who is in the cell phone address book and is also a WhatsApp user.

This feels so natural for many people that they don’t bother to communicate with friends or relatives on other channels.

The vacation mail to the family, the appointment with a colleague for lunch or the quick updates from one of the many groups we are members of (e.g. neighborhood, club, party) always keep us up to date.

Why call someone on their birthday at all when you can send a short message to the group with lots of little cupcakes and grinning suns? Anyone who doesn’t want to take part often comes across as a funny oddball with few social ties, right?

But wait, something has changed

Since WhatsApp changed its terms of use in Germany in May 2021 and also marketed its user data on Facebook, things have gotten a little restless in the WhatsApp community. Some users have safely abandoned WhatsApp, some have tried an alternative.

Unfortunately, too many people are still willing to “sacrifice” some of their privacy in order not to have to give up their WhatsApp social fabric.

Therefore, as a reminder, here is an overview of what it means to use WhatsApp:

  1. Every time you start WhatsApp, your complete address book is read from your cell phone and uploaded to WhatsApp/Facebook. The data of all your contacts, even those who are not on WhatsApp! You can object to this when you first register, but then using WhatsApp is actually pointless.
  2. Your metadata is analyzed – with whom did I communicate , when, from where and how often .
  3. This data is compressed into profiles together with cookies from the Internet browser, your Instagram and Facebook data.
  4. These profiles are passed on to, among other things, advertisers, data dealers and, if necessary, investigative authorities.

No. I’m not on WhatsApp (anymore).

Do you want to turn your back on WhatsApp and Facebook? Are you looking for a safe and trustworthy provider for your private messages?

Then try one of my recommendations below.

signal – Signal is the quasi-standard in the world of secure messengers. Signal offers easy-to-use end-to-end encryption for text, voice, and video chats, voice and video calls, and secure file and photo transfers.

Despite being based in the USA, Signal is considered trustworthy because the Signal Messenger protocol does not store any user data apart from the telephone number and the last login. Signal is available for all smartphones, Mac, Linux and Windows.

threema – Threema has also been a proven and secure messenger for many years (founded in 2012) and with secure end-to-end encryption and features that are very similar to Signal.

Threema is very trustworthy (based in Switzerland) and released its source code for the first time in December 2020.

Why not Telegram?

End-to-end encryption for messages is only (12/2021) optional, the encryption protocol is classified by security experts as questionable to insecure and more data about the users is stored than with Signal or Threema. You can find more details here .

How can I properly delete my WhatsApp account?

It is important that you do not simply delete the WhatsApp app on your smartphone! All your previous contacts would not know that you are no longer on WhatsApp. They would be surprised that you don’t answer and keep sending you messages.

  1. Send all contacts a short message that you are leaving WhatsApp and where to find you.
  2. Also post this information in your status (maybe also as a photo)
  3. Follow these instructions when deleting your WhatsApp account

According to WhatsApp, it can take up to 90 days for the deletion to be completed. For me it took much longer. Always ask a friend if and how he sees you on WhatsApp.

The Next Level (Pro Corner)

Both of the providers I suggested are trustworthy. If you still use WhatsApp today and want to switch, you should definitely start with Signal or Threema first. At Signal you will (12/2021) find more colleagues or friends.

Both offers are central services. That means there is one provider (one company), one data storage location, one administration that controls all users. If, for example, Threema is sold to another manufacturer tomorrow or Signal decides to add an unwanted function, all users will have to endure it. It is also easier for investigating authorities to access a centrally managed instance, for example to block it.

A concept that tries to limit the “omnipotence” of a provider is a distributed (so-called federated) infrastructure. In our example, a messenger that can use multiple, independent servers that communicate with each other. Where the user can decide where his data, his account is located. Email is an example of a federated service. The federation allows system administrators to control their own server and still be part of the larger communications network. This concept has been around for instant messengers for a few years now. If you find this interesting, you are more than welcome to continue here .

Sources, tips and links for further reading

WhatsApp, How WhatsApp works with other Facebook companies, 09/03/2021

WhatsApp, delete WhatsApp account , 09/03/2021

Privacy Guides, Real Time Communication , 05/05/2021

Threema, Why Threema instead of WhatsApp? , 05/05/2021

Arstechnica, FBI demands Signal user data , May 5, 2021

Element / Matrix, A new World of Messaging and Collaboration , 09/05/2021