Are chats on Facebook Messenger really safe?

Messenger in check - Whatsapp and Co. are so safe

Facebook and Whatsapp are still among the most popular messenger services. With 1.5 billion users worldwide, Whatsapp, which has been part of Facebook since 2014, even ranks ahead of the parent company's messaging service. But data protectionists always have security concerns. Whatsapp at least offers standard encryption, with Facebook Messenger this must first be activated manually using the "secret conversation" function. “Whatsapp itself has been using end-to-end encryption for communication, which experts have widely classified as very secure,” explains Stephan Dörner, online editor-in-chief of the specialist magazine “t3n”. “The conversations are therefore very well secured against eavesdropping by third parties - including WhatsApp itself. The problems are in the area of ​​contact data and other sensitive meta information. ”Whatsapp accesses the contacts in its own phone book and unlawfully shares them with the operator Facebook. There is also an exchange of data.

Messenger use: legal problems in a professional context

While this is at least not a legal problem in the private sector, it looks different with professional use. "Anyone who uses Whatsapp professionally should be aware that their use violates the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that has been in effect since May, unless the user asks each individual contact in the phone book for permission to share the data with Whatsapp," explains Dörner. Some companies are even developing their own GDPR-compliant messengers or social networks Stashcat or Just Social. As a worthwhile alternative to Facebook and Whatsapp, the expert recommends the Signal messenger app, the encryption technology of which is also used by the two major providers: “When it comes to data protection and secure communication, the Signal open source messenger is definitely the best Solution. “Unfortunately, the software is not widely used, so you have to convince your own environment to rely on it.

Messenger security: Pay attention to end-to-end encryption

The Swiss messenger app Threema is a good compromise between data protection friendliness, communication secured against eavesdropping and popularity. “The app costs money and is not open source software. The end-to-end encryption was subjected to an external review by the company and Threema says it does not save more than necessary, ”says Dörner. On the other hand, Dörner clearly advises against using the also popular Messenger Telegram. "The company behind it is non-transparent, only 'secret chats' are end-to-end encrypted in the app and even there an algorithm is used that has not been checked by crypto experts and classified as secure."

The most popular messengers in check

We have put together an overview of the most popular messengers and explain how secure social media communication is about them.

Facebook Messenger

If you want to chat with friends via Facebook, you can hardly avoid the in-house Facebook Messenger. 1.3 billion people around the world actively use the intelligence service. In addition to the possibility of exchanging text messages with one or more people, voice calls and video chats are also possible. According to the company, 200,000 chatbots are active in Messenger. The app can also be installed and used on the smartphone independently of the Facebook app. A payment system via Facebook Messenger is currently being tested in some countries.

Click here for the Android app for Facebook Messenger.

Click here for the iOS app for Facebook Messenger

Whatsapp Messenger

The Whatsapp news service was founded in California in 2009 and has been part of the Facebook group since 2014. With 1.5 billion users, the messenger is even more popular than that of the parent company. In contrast to Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp messages are protected by end-to-end encryption as standard. In addition to sending text and voice messages, it is possible to use the status function to share video and picture montages for a limited time and to use IP telephony via the Android operating system. From 2019 the company wants to advertise in the status area.

Click here for the Android app for Whatsapp Messenger.

Click here for the iOS app for Whatsapp Messenger.

Telegram Messenger

The founder of the messenger service is Pawel Valerjewitsch Durow, who together with his brother launched the popular Russian-speaking social network Vk.com in 2006. According to its own information, the company stores its keys locally on servers around the world. The messenger's end-to-end encryption must be activated manually and is not available for all functions. Special features are public channels, groups with up to 100,000 members and the sharing of large files of up to 1.5 gigabytes

Click here for the Android app for Telegram Messenger.

Click here for the iOS app for Telegram Messenger.

Threema Messenger

Around 4.5 million people use the fee-based messenger service of the Swiss-based company. Registration takes place via a randomly generated code; it is not necessary to provide a telephone number or email address. Security keys between chat partners can be exchanged via QR code. All forms of communication - whether voice calls, group chats, media, files or status messages - are end-to-end encrypted as standard. The app costs 2.99 euros in the Google Play Store and 3.49 euros in the App Store.

Click here for the Android app for the Threema Messenger.

Click here for the iOS app for the Threema Messenger.

Signal Messenger

The best-known user of the signal messenger is the US whistleblower and former CIA employee Edward Snowden. The encryption takes place via the end-to-end encrypted signal protocol, which is freely accessible and was first published in 2010 under the name TextSe-cure. Facebook and Whatsapp also use the Signal protocol. As with Threema, all forms of communication - whether messages, photos, videos or video calls - are encrypted by default and can be re-encrypted manually if necessary.

Click here for the Android app for Signal Messenger.

Click here for the iOS app for Signal Messenger.

By Lisa Stegner / RND