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How Secure is Our Privacy on Messaging Apps?
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How Secure is Our Privacy on Messaging Apps?

by Rebecca CampbellOctober 17, 2016

For many of us our phones are our lifeline, but with the numerous phones apps that we use on a daily basis, how secure is our the privacy with our conversations?

In the digital age we live in we are consumed by the countless apps we have on our phone. For many, they are the perfect way of keeping in touch with friends and family far and wide.

However, when it comes to our privacy on the apps we’re using, how secure and private are they?

google-allo

Recently Alphabet Inc.’s Google released its new Allo chat app. The benefits, many might think, is that the messenger platform undertakes the task of suggesting what a user should say next simply by looking at the contents of users’ messages.

However, according to the Verge, when Google announced their Allo app earlier this year it was marketed as a positive step forward for privacy. Now, though, all non-incognito messages will be encrypted in transit, but they will be stored by default unless a user actively deletes them so as to improve Allo’s smart reply feature.

So with Google’s Allo chat app failing to use end-to-end encryption by default, what other apps follow the same route?

A Breakdown of App Privacy Features

With so many apps available it would be natural to think that the privacy feature on one app is the same on another; however, that is not always the case nor is it always easy to make sure your conversations are private.

With Google’s Allo chat app it has an opt-in feature for end-to-end encryption, potentially leaving a backdoor open for thieves to steal a person’s personal and private information. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, there are three different companies that always use end-to-end encryption: Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp, Apple Inc.’s iMessage, and Open Whisper System’s Signal App.

Interestingly, enough, Facebook was recently ordered to stop collecting data on WhatsApp users in Germany, as reported in the New York Times. According to the report, WhatsApp had announced last month that it was starting to share users’ online information with Facebook; however, the city of Hamburg’s data protection commissioner ordered Facebook to stop. The regulator is reported to have also asked Facebook to delete all information received from WhatsApp on around 35 million German users.

Facebook Messenger

facebook-messenger

Similar to Google’s Allo app opt-in feature is Facebook’s Messenger. Yet, while the end-to-end encryption, if enabled, is available for the app on a user’s mobile, it’s not available on the desktop. In fact, in a report from the Indian Express, it revealed that Facebook Messenger chatbots could jeopardize privacy.

The report stated that when it comes to tracking orders online chatbots are the ideal solution; however, when it comes to sharing sensitive data, people and companies are less likely to hand over personal information.

Not only that, but when companies realize that Facebook is using their customers’ data, they will be less likely to use Messenger if they have to share exclusive data.

Yet, a blog from the Wall Street Journal, in 2014, claimed that while users of Facebook’s Messenger app were complaining about the amount of permission they had to hand over before downloading the app, they weren’t giving up additional privacy in the process.

Skype

skype

Once upon a time, Skype was believed to not offer end-to-end encryption. While its messages were run through Microsoft’s servers, its messages, video, and audio chats were only encrypted in transit.

In 2013, an Ars Technica investigation reported that ‘the Microsoft-owned service regularly scans message contents for signs of fraud, and company managers may log the results indefinitely.’

This meant that if the security of your computer, phone or tablet was compromised then eavesdroppers could access your files.

Yet, Reuters reported, in March of this year, that Skype had ‘introduced a new version of its own messaging service that promises end-to-end encryption for all conversations, including by video.’ However, a report by Comparitech, in July, found that not everything is encrypted via Skype. While Skype-to-Skype calls are encrypted, if a person uses Skype to phone a mobile or landline then that part of the call, which takes places over an ordinary phone network (PSTN) is not encrypted.

Google Hangouts

google-hangouts

Since its initial release in 2013, Google Hangouts has gained significant popularity among the masses. Unfortunately, it’s an app that doesn’t use end-to-end encryption.

According to Motherboard, a Google representative unveiled earlier last year that Hangout conversations are only encrypted ‘in transit’. Focusing on whether the government could wiretap Google Hangouts and the fact that Hangouts doesn’t use end-to-end encryption means that Google could wiretap conversations if the government asked it to.

Of course, with the revelations from Edward Snowden of governments spying on its citizens, knowing whether or not your conversations are being recorded has become important for the masses to know. However, due to the popularity of social media using apps such as Facebook Messenger or Google Hangouts is not going to stop anytime soon. You can, however, choose one that provides the best privacy for your conversations and prevents eavesdroppers from looking in.

Featured image from Shutterstock. Story images are screen shots.


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