The data sharing policies of Signal and WhatsApp: what you need to know

After WhatsApp unveiled a new, controversial, privacy policy in early 2021, downloads of the app ‘Signal’ increased dramatically. Indeed, Signal saw approximately 7.5 million installs globally through the Apple App Store and Google Play store between Jan. 6 and Jan. 10 –  43 times the number from the previous week.

With many people worried about WhatsApp’s data sharing practices with its parent company, Facebook, it is perhaps not surprising that alternatives like Signal have gained popularity. However, it does beg the question, how can Signal keep your data more private than WhatsApp, and, why?

How does Signal work?

At its very basic, Signal is a messaging service just like WhatsApp. Both platforms use end-to-end encryption to provide private messaging and Internet calling services to users worldwide. This means your calls and messages can never be shared or viewed by anyone but yourself and the intended recipients – including by the platform itself. 

How does it differ from WhatsApp?

The main difference between Signal and WhatsApp are the apps willingness to monetise user data. In its terms and conditions statement, Signal explicitly states “Signal does not sell, rent or monetize your personal data or content in any way – ever.” 

WhatsApp, on the other hand, wants to start earning revenue from its 2 billion users by selling some of your information to third parties so that they can provide more targeted adverts to you on Facebook and Instagram. It should be noted that due to the encryption mentioned above, this doesn’t mean that because you’re talking about buying a new car with your friend on WhatsApp you’ll suddenly start getting car advertisements. 

Nonetheless, it is worth noting the information WhatsApp can see and collect so that you can make an informed decision about what data you give away. For instance, as WhatsApp can view your contact list, calling a new contact, ‘Potential Car Buyer’ is one way that the company could gather your data to later target you with adverts. 

User data WhatsApp collects includes:

  • Your phone number
  • The IP addresses you’ve used
  • The brand and type of your phone (or other device)
  • Your profile picture
  • The phone numbers of your contacts
  • All WhatsApp groups you’re a member of
  • Blocked contacts

What user data does Signal collect and share?

As with any service you sign up to use, you inevitably give away some of your personal data when you sign up to Signal. To create an account you must register using your phone number, for example. This phone number is stored so that you can receive text messages and phone calls with verification codes or have your support tickets looked into should there be a technical issue with the app.

There are also a variety of third party services on Signal, like Spotify, Youtube, and GIPHY. When using these services, you are operating under their terms and privacy policies.

Other instances where Signal may need to share your data:

  • To meet any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request.
  • To enforce applicable Terms, including investigation of potential violations.
  • To detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security, or technical issues.
  • To protect against harm to the rights, property, or safety of Signal, our users, or the public as required or permitted by law

Finally, on Signal, you may optionally add other information to your account, such as a profile name and profile picture. Yet, unlike with WhatsApp, this information is end-to-end encrypted and cannot be viewed by Signal.

Did this post change your opinion on which messaging platform you use? Let us know in the comments section, and if you have any questions or other technology queries tweet @techtroublesho1.

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