When it comes to secure messaging apps, two big names stand out – Signal and WhatsApp. But if you‘re concerned about keeping your conversations confidential, which one should you use?
In this in-depth comparison, we‘ll look at the critical differences between Signal and WhatsApp when it comes to privacy protections, security features, data collection policies, and more. Read on to see how the two platforms stack up so you can decide which app meets your needs for secure communication.
Encryption and Metadata Protection
Both Signal and WhatsApp provide end-to-end encryption for messages. This means the content of your conversations is scrambled into an unreadable format that only the sender and recipient can decipher. The companies themselves claim they cannot access messages.
However, metadata is still generated with each message sent or call made. Metadata includes details like the date/time of communication, the users involved, device information, and more.
Here‘s where the apps diverge. Signal goes a step further to encrypt metadata through a feature called Sealed Sender. This prevents the Signal servers themselves from being able to access or read your metadata.
Some examples of metadata WhatsApp can view:
- Dates and times you communicated with someone
- The users involved in chats or calls
- Your general location (country)
- Device type you are using
- IP addresses
While Signal has additional protections in place for metadata, ultimately both Signal and WhatsApp lack features that allow hiding your phone number or communicating fully anonymously. Your account is still tied to your phone number and device information.
Data Collection and Usage
Signal and WhatsApp also differ significantly when it comes to how much user data they collect and what it is used for.
According to Signal‘s 2021 transparency report, the app collects very minimal user data – only what is provided during account registration like phone number, profile name, profile image, plus messages/calls and contact lists.
However, all of this core account information and communication data is protected by end-to-end encryption. Signal states it does not have access to any readable user data.
Signal‘s revenue model relies on user donations rather than collecting data for monetization or ad targeting. As noted on Signal‘s website, "Signal can‘t access your messages or listen to your calls, and the teams at Signal can’t see your data."
- Basic account information like phone number, profile name, profile photo, about me section
- All messages, photos, videos, voice messages, files sent
- Information on your usage of WhatsApp services
- Battery level, signal strength, app version, device ops system
- Broad location based on phone number country code
- IP address
- Device identifiers like IMEI number, WiFi MAC address
WhatsApp data is also used for customized features and content recommendations when using Meta platforms. Information like usage patterns, status updates, about me info may inform the ads you see on Facebook.
So while Signal prioritizes data minimization, WhatsApp provides its parent company Meta broad access to user information for internal analytics and advertising purposes.
Security Features Comparison
Signal and WhatsApp incorporate security capabilities like contact verification, encrypted backups, and screen lock features. Here‘s how they stack up:
|Denver, Colorado, USA
|Menlo Park, California, USA (Meta/Facebook)
|Open Source Code
|Windows, MacOS, Linux
|MacOS, Windows (in dev)
Both apps provide core messaging functionality like texting, photo/video sharing, voice and video calling, group chats, and document sharing.
However, there are a few key differentiators:
- Open source code – Signal‘s code is open source, allowing independent security researchers to audit it. WhatsApp‘s code is proprietary.
- Contact verification – Signal uses unique safety numbers to verify new contacts. WhatsApp only offers security code verification in 1-on-1 chats.
- Desktop apps – Signal supports Windows, MacOS and Linux. WhatsApp is still in early development for Windows.
Overall, Signal has more transparency with its open source approach compared to closed-source WhatsApp. Both offer robust security protections like encryption but Signal‘s features are geared more heavily toward privacy.
Granular Privacy Controls
Beyond encryption, both apps allow users some control over their privacy settings for features like notifications and disappearing messages. Once again, Signal provides more granular options.
Notifications – You can disable WhatsApp notifications entirely or hide message previews. With Signal, you can show your name only, hide name and message content entirely, or disable notifications.
Disappearing messages – Both apps allow enabling self-destructing messages. But Signal lets you set any timer between 30 seconds up to 4 weeks before messages disappear. WhatsApp only permits 24 hours, 7 days, or 90 days.
Call relay – Signal users can route calls through Signal servers to hide their IP address and location. WhatsApp calls reveal your IP address.
Block contacts – You can block contacts in both apps. But Signal lets you continue receiving messages from blocked contacts – you just won‘t get notifications. They are stored in a blocked inbox.
So if you want maximum control over what information is visible in the app, Signal provides more customization options.
WhatsApp vs Signal: Usage Statistics
WhatsApp consistently leads Signal in user numbers, likely because it was an earlier entrant in the encrypted messaging space.
According to data site Statista, WhatsApp usage has grown to over 2 billion monthly active users as of February 2022.
Comparatively, Signal had around 40 million monthly active users globally as of January 2022 according to Signal‘s website.
So while WhatsApp has amassed a much larger user base, Signal adoption has steadily grown in recent years as public concern mounts around data privacy and user awareness increases about Signal‘s stringent protections.
Key Takeaways: Should You Use Signal or WhatsApp?
Deciding between Signal and WhatsApp depends on your priorities around privacy versus convenience/features.
Reasons to choose Signal:
- You want comprehensive privacy protection including encrypted metadata
- Minimizing data collection is important to you
- You value open-source transparency and auditability
- You desire maximum controls over visibility settings
Reasons to choose WhatsApp:
- You prioritize convenience and wide user base for messaging
- You want access to voice/video calling and group chats
- You appreciate features like document sharing and stickers
- You use other Meta/Facebook platforms and want integration
For users who put privacy at the absolute top of their priority list, Signal is widely regarded as the most secure encrypted messaging app thanks to its layers of encryption, minimal data collection, and privacy-centric features that put users in control.
However, WhatsApp offers convenience, especially in regions where it has become the dominant messaging platform. And its core end-to-end encryption still provides reasonable assurance around message security, though metadata remains visible.
So weigh your personal preferences and needs to determine if Signal or WhatsApp is the right fit. And if you want to take your privacy to the next level across all online activity, pair your secure messenger with a trustworthy VPN for enhanced protection.