WhatsApp vs. Signal – A detailed comparison of security and features

WhatsApp vs Signal Detailed Comparison

Concerned about the latest updates to the WhatsApp Privacy Policy 2021 and considering switching to an alternative? Well, you’re not alone. One of the prime questions on everyone’s minds is WhatsApp or Signal – what’s the difference, and which one should you use? I did some digging and tried both apps to give you this detailed comparison of the features and privacy.

WhatsApp vs. Signal security

At a glance

WhatsAppSignal
Default Encryption✔️✔️
Encrypts Meta Data✔️
No logging of time stamps and IP addresses✔️
Has refused to cooperate with intelligence agencies✔️
Abstains from collecting user data✔️
Provides transparency reports✔️✔️
Open-source app and servers✔️
Screen Security✔️

WhatsApp security 

The first thing that comes to mind when considering security is end-to-end encryption. The good news is that WhatsApp uses this on all modes of communication, such as text and audio messages, voice and video calls, photos, and anything else you share. Therefore, only you and the recipient can view the information exchanged, and WhatsApp does not pry into it. 

MoreoverWhatsApp uses the same E2E protocol as Signal, developed by Open Whisper Systems. This is great because it is open source and has been reviewed as one of the most secure E2E protocols for messaging platforms.

However, WhatsApp does not encrypt your local and cloud backups. Nor does it encrypt the metadata that is used to carry communication between two endpoints. This is a cause of concern as it gives authorities information about whom you messaged, when and for how long. 

Furthermore, according to the new policy, here is the data that WhatsApp will collect about you and share with Facebook and potentially with other third parties too: 

  • mobile network, connection information (including phone number, mobile operator or ISP),
  • your phone’s battery level and signal strength,
  • app version,
  • browser information,
  • language and time zone,
  • your IP address,
  • device operations information, and identifiers (including identifiers unique to Facebook Company Products associated with the same device or account).
WhatsApp security update screenshot

As for user-controlled security features, WhatsApp allows you to set up an app lock as well as two-factor authentication (2FA) if you like. This is pretty standard for other messaging apps too.

Overall, WhatsApp does provide some essential security features. But the new privacy policy is causing a stir due to new revelations of how data will be shared with Facebook and other third parties. Moreover, WhatsApp has also faced data breaches that have cast it in poor light. This is one of the main reasons to consider an alternative like Signal. 

Signal security 

Just like WhatsApp, Signal ensures end-to-end encryption of all your messages through the open-source Signal Protocol. But it goes further and encrypts the metadata too for complete user privacy. Nobody can view details of who is messaging whom, not even Signal. 

Further, Signal also supports encrypted group calls and encrypts all your local files with a 4-digit passcode. You can also create a local encrypted backup of your chats.

Along with this, you can lock Signal with a passcode or biometric and set up  2FA. You can also choose to enable screen security, which means that when you switch to another app, the Signal app preview screen appears blank to thwart prying eyes. 

Signal also lets you relay voice calls to its servers, so your identity remains hidden from your contacts. This is similar to what a VPN does. Further, there’s a built-in option to hide your IP address. The only data that Signal collects about you is your contact info.

Signal security update screenshot

Lastly, Signal has a fantastic photo editor that lets you blur faces before sending images or removing any sensitive information from photos for enhanced privacy. I must say, the attention to detail is commendable and makes Signal stand out as the most secure messaging app. 

WhatsApp vs. Signal features

At a glance 

 WhatsAppSignal
Group Members2561000
Broadcast Messages✔️
Status✔️
Dark Mode✔️✔️
Group Call Participants85
Disappearing MessagesAfter 7 daysTimer options
Cloud Backup✔️

WhatsApp features 

WhatsApp is quite feature-rich and lets you have a group chat with 256 members plus group video calls with eight people. You can even broadcast messages to multiple people and share special moments or words using the Status section similar to Stories on Facebook and Instagram.

This makes WhatsApp similar to a social media platform rather than merely a messaging app. Further, it offers a free backup facility to third-party providers such as iCloud and Google Drive, making it a breeze to restore your chats if you lose them or change your device. However, as mentioned above, these backups are not encrypted to pose a privacy risk. 

Recently, WhatsApp has added functionality for disappearing messages too, which, when turned on, makes messages self-destruct after seven days of sending. Let’s see how this compares to Signal. 

Signal features 

Although Signal offers similar features like group chat and video calling, there’s no option to Broadcast a message to multiple people at the same time or to post Stories. But these limitations are hardly a concern when privacy is your priority.

On the bright side, you can send disappearing messages that self-destruct after preset time intervals as short as 5 seconds to as long as a week. 

There’s also a “Note to Self” feature where you can keep a record of any passing thoughts or reminders as you like. 

However, one significant missing feature is the option for cloud backups, which means that you won’t be able to restore your messages if you accidentally delete them, change your device, or switch your number. But you can create encrypted local backups on your device if you wish.

Another aspect in which Signal lags behind WhatsApp is that it does not have such a broad user base at the moment. Compared to WhatsApp’s 2 billion monthly active users, Signal has 10-20 million. Plus, you cannot sync your old messages across iOS/Android on macOS/Windows.

WhatsApp vs. Signal messaging app – which one’s for you? 

In my honest opinion, for the average WhatsApp user, there’s no reason to shift over to Signal just yet, primarily if you already use Facebook and Instagram. There’s nothing especially threatening that the company can do with your data right now. However, if you’re too concerned about privacy and want to stay away from Facebook, Signal could be the best WhatsApp alternative for you.

Although I’ve downloaded and tried out Signal, I’m going to continue using WhatsApp, too, at least for the time being. What’s your take? Will you switch over, or are you like me and too hooked to WhatsApp to make the change? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

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2 comments
  1. Best summary so far – what would be helpful is a description on how to get to these App Privacy screens.
    I’m guessing this is from Apple phones – since I can’t find the same on Android.
    Nowadays everybody calls everything fake news unless you can see it directly yourself. Thats sad but the way it is !

  2. Well said! Enough Info to make an informed decision.
    The fact is ‘Facebook’ has a social media monopoly. Just quitting WhatsApp doesn’t make any sense if we still use Instagram or Facebook or both. Because Facebook have our data or whatever already and will have as long as we use any of these.
    Another thing is ‘Too hooked to WhatsApp’. Even if we make the switch, 8 out of 10 people we meet gonna say – See you, Will WhatsApp you! And yet again will end up there as long as your circle sticks to it.

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