The battle between WhatsApp and Telegram has been going on for years, but to date most of the statements came from Pavel Durov, CEO of Telegram. Now the tables have turned. Will Cathcart, director of WhatsApp in Meta, has taken advantage of the publication of a critical article in Wired magazine to charge hard against Telegram, one of the messaging application’s biggest rivals.
And how could it be otherwise, the security and privacy of the application is at the center of the debate.
“If you think Telegram is safe, maybe you should understand the truth first, especially if you are going to use it for anything private,” exposes Cathcart in a summarized thread on Twitter. “Telegram is not end-to-end encrypted by default and does not offer e2ee for groups.” Unlike WhatsApp, which does offer it by default.
It is a known fact for several years. Telegram offers only end-to-end encryption in secret chats. The explanation given by Telegram is due to “the difficulty involved in backups”. To which they accused WhatsApp that its E2E encryption is a hoax: “If your conversation partner is using “Backup in Google Drive”, Google has access to those messages, and therefore, any government that requests them from Google. So, E2E encryption is enabled in WhatsApp by default, but it’s immediately disabled. And there’s no way you can tell if your friends are using those backups or not.”
Criticism against Telegram grows
This lack of encryption is what, according to reports such as the one in Wired collected by Cathcart himself, allows “Telegram to have the ability to share almost any sensitive information a government requests“Anyone? Yes, but mainly Russian or Kremlin whistleblowers. “In many cases, it’s impossible to know what’s really going on,” he says. “Telegram lacks the real transparency that most tech companies have embraced. “, explains the director of WhatsApp.
These back-and-forth criticisms are quite common, but now the optics of the Russian-Ukrainian war give it a new nuance. “Telegram has put people in danger”explains Cathcart. As? As the Wired report explains: “At the start of the war it was possible to spoof Telegram’s Locations API to identify any user within a 2 mile radius if they had recently activated their location.”
Of course, I recognize that some will say I’m self-interested in critiquing Telegram. But there are many other great end-to-end encrypted messaging apps people can choose from. If you aren’t going to use WhatsApp, use one of them – don’t use Telegram.
— Will Cathcart (@wcathcart) February 10, 2023
His message is that there are many other encrypted messaging applications, beyond Telegram or WhatsApp itself. It does not name it directly, but Signal is usually the messaging application that is considered the great reference in terms of security and privacy. “If you are not going to use WhatsApp, use one of these, but not Telegram”he concludes.
In the future, WhatsApp and Telegram may be interoperable, if the European Union gets its way. Meanwhile, Telegram’s strategy is to make its platform more and more decentralized. Two historically antagonistic approaches, each with its defenders.
There is no single answer to what is the best messaging app. What does seem clear is that Telegram’s lack of e2ee encryption by default has once again been an element of conflict, especially at a time when any ties with Russia are looked at with a magnifying glass.
In Xataka Android | WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal or Messenger: in-depth comparison of mobile messaging applications