Representational image
Representational image

In recent days, as WhatsApp changed its privacy policy, many have begun looking for alternative messaging applications. For those who remain blissfully unaware of the debacle, over the last few days WhatsApp has been sending users a message to acquiesce to new Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. This is a part of Facebook's efforts to integrate the apps under it, and as such would require WhatsApp users to agree to having some of their data shared with Facebook and its subsidiaries.

Needless to say, it has not gone down well with netizens. Many have railed against the move, even as influential figures urge people to make a switch to an alternative app. Among these, Signal appears to be the best endorsed.

"Use Signal," reads a short post from Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

"Here's a reason: I use it every day and I'm not dead yet," retorted Edward Snowden when an user wondered if the app could be trusted.

But does Signal have any advantages over WhatsApp for the ordinary smartphone user? That probably depends how concerned you are about your privacy and how unwilling you are to have your data collected. Now, just to clarify, privacy refers to one's rights to control their personal information and how that information is used. Security, while often used interchangeably, refers to how an individual's personal information is protected. Even when a third party is given access to your data, your security is maintained.

Here's how Signal has an edge over other messaging apps:

1. It has up-to-date security features. Features such as disappearing messages came to Signal much before it was available on WhatsApp.

2. It is an open source software. As such, its source code is publicly available for people to examine and use under a license. The additional scrutiny helps more easily reveal hidden vulnerabilities in the app. WhatsApp in contrast has closed-source code. Signal open source nature also enables people to run Signal servers if they should wish to.

3. The app is light, as compared to some other messaging applications that occupy a large chunk of memory, CPU or battery. Similar to WhatsApp, it is a free app. Many also contend that the app has comparatively better voice and video quality.

4. Signal does not store any metadata on its servers. The bare minimum of permissions are requested, but this information is stored only on the phone. However, compared to WhatsApp it is slightly more difficult to back messages up and transfer it from phone to phone if necessary - perhaps a win for those concerned about privacy, but definitely a checkmark for those prioritising ease of access.

Unrelated to the privacy concerns, we feel compelled to mention that the number of people presently using Signal are far less than those familiar with WhatsApp. As such you might find it impossible to delete the app from your phone , simply because all contacts may not be willing to make the switch. Another fact to be noted is that is comparatively a bare-bones app. While there are upgrades coming in frequently, features such as the use of stickers is far more easy with WhatsApp.

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Free Press Journal