For some, texting is like talking. It’s an intimate way to have a conversation. But how intimate is it, exactly, when you count up all the participants: yourself, your phone, your data carrier, the person on the other end of the line, their phone, their data carrier, the corporations who run the servers that move your selfies to and fro. And probably a government or two. It’s more like a party line.
The social networking giants promise secure backchannels, but that’s not always the case. Even if your ex isn’t reading your Facebook messages, Facebook might be. The company was sued in 2014 for allegations of data mining personal messages in order to serve more precise ads. Last year, Google announced it’s going to start mining your inbox activity to better target its ads to you and your network of friends.
Standard SMS isn’t secure, and while many of the most popular messaging apps use end-to-end encryption, they can still leave you exposed. It’s time to look for a mobile messaging solution that’s more secure, grants more privacy, and gives you a place where you can talk more freely. Listed below are three free apps that allow you to send safely encrypted messages on your phone, for when things really do need to stay on the down-low.
Encryption shouldn’t be synonymous with bad design. Check out Signal, an app made by the crew at Open Whisper Systems that allows for secure, encrypted text messaging and phone calls between Android and Apple phones. Plus it’s ad-free and costs nothing—a perk of the company being a non-profit.
There’s a lot to rave about with Signal. You can securely send photos, videos, and links, and it’s all encrypted end-to-end. Perfect for those racy selfies you’ve been nervous about. Signal also has a great group message feature, so you and your co-workers can privately share embarrassing cell phone vids of the boss with a little more confidence.
The app has a lot of features that you can customise, like the ability to only open it with a password and the option to automatically delete older messages after a conversation reaches a certain length. But here’s the coolest thing: Signal provides free long distance encrypted calls and texts over your phone’s data plan or Wi-Fi, made possible by using servers all over the world.
If you’re still not convinced, don’t take my word. Edward Snowden says he uses Signal everyday. You can also take a look at the code, which is openly available online for your perusal.
There is one catch: both you and your friends need to use Signal for the encryption to work, so your best bet might be to convince your pals to all download it at the next party. Then you can all verify your identities in person. Fun stuff.
Maybe you’re more of the instant messaging type and prefer to connect with friends via Facebook or Google Hangouts, yet still want that extra layer of privacy. ChatSecure is your best bet. Like Signal, it’s available for both iOS and Android.
ChatSecure works by using OTR, or off the record, encryption. It’s the same kind of encryption that desktop chat clients like Adium, Pidgin, and Jitsi use to encrypt your messaging. ChatSecure allows someone to message you from their desktop to your phone, just like the Google Hangouts app does. The difference is that if the person you’re talking to is also using Google or Facebook with an off-the-record messaging app, your conversation will be fully encrypted end-to-end.
Similar to Signal, ChatSecure allows users to verify their identity. And it’s got a group messaging feature too. For that extra layer of trust, you can take a look around the code. ChatSecure is free and fully open-source.
If everyone in your clique uses an iPhone, you can feel confident that your iMessages are probably being sent securely between Apple devices. The company claims to use end-to-end encryption automatically on iMessages. The problem is that it only works with iPhones, so you have to be a member of the club to get it.
Apple says it can’t even read your text messages, much less hand over anything readable to law enforcement if that’s your concern. iMessage allows for group chat, and sending pics and videos too. The talk bubbles also indicate when you’re not talking to someone using iMessage, so you know when you’re not using encryption.