Telegram falls somewhere in the middle of the privacy scale, and it stands apart from other messenger apps because of its efforts to create a social network-style environment. While it doesn’t collect as much data as WhatsApp, it also doesn’t offer encrypted group calls like WhatsApp, nor as much user data privacy and company transparency as Signal. Data collected by Telegram that could be linked to you includes your name, phone number, contact list and user ID.
Telegram also collects your IP address, something else Signal doesn’t do. And unlike Signal and WhatsApp, Telegram’s one-to-one messages aren’t encrypted by default. Rather, you have to turn them on in the app’s settings. Telegram group messages also aren’t encrypted. Researchers found that while some of Telegram’s MTProto encryption scheme was open-source, some portions were not, so it’s not completely clear what happens to your texts once they’re in Telegram’s servers.
Telegram has seen several breaches. Some 42 million Telegram user IDs and phone numbers were exposed in March of 2020, thought to be the work of Iranian government officials. It would be the second massive breach linked to Iran, after 15 million Iranian users were exposed in 2016. A Telegram bug was exploited by Chinese authorities in 2019 during the Hong Kong protests. Then there was the deep-fake bot on Telegram that has been allowed to create forged nudes of women from regular pictures. Most recently, its GPS-enabled feature allowing you to find others near you has created obvious problems for privacy.
I reached out to Telegram to find out whether there were any major security plans in the works for the app, and what its security priorities were after this latest user surge. I’ll update this story when I hear back.
Telegram, which has more than 550 million monthly users globally, is already Ukraine’s most popular messaging app. The service’s much-hyped encryption and its ability to disseminate messages to groups of up to 200,000 – the limit on Facebook-owned WhatsApp is 256 members – has seen it dubbed the “app of choice” for terrorists.
Telegram was banned in Russia in 2018 after Pavel Durov refused to give the authorities access to its user data. However, the crackdown, which included blocking IP addresses, was easy to circumvent, and the service continued to grow. Russia gave in and lifted the ban in mid-2020.
The app has been adopted as a leading source of news outside state-controlled media, and in the Ukrainian war it has become a 24-hour news lifeline for civilians, journalists and even the military.
It has become the go-to platform for protest groups of all kinds, from Extinction Rebellion to anti-vaccination groups, from the US Capitol rioters to pro-democracy campaigns in states including Russian-allied Belarus, Hong Kong and Iran.
But Telegram’s role in the dissemination of unverified information alarmed the 37-year-old Durov – who has been called the Russian Mark Zuckerberg, after he founded what is still by far the country’s most popular social network, VKontakte (VK), in 2006.
Last weekend, he said he was considering shuttering the service in the “countries involved” for the duration of the conflict.
“We do not want Telegram to be used as a tool that exacerbates conflicts and incites ethnic hatred,” Durov posted on Sunday.
Telegram has updated its iPhone and iPad app with several new features, including new easy-to-make video stickers, better reactions, interactive emoji, improved navigation between chats, and other additions and improvements.
There are also five new reactions that can optionally be sent as interactive emoji with synchronized fullscreen effects. They include smiling face with three hearts, mind-blown face, thinking face, swearing face, and hands clapping.
Meanwhile, navigating through chats in Telegram has been improved. When jumping through unread channels or moving between chats, users can now press and hold the “Back” button to return to a specific chat via a popup menu. Opening chats from forwarded messages, links, usernames, profiles, and so on also adds them to the menu.
Elsewhere, Telegram developers have improved call quality, added support for translation to Instant View pages (and bios on iOS), added the option to send silent messages from the sharing menu, and included new animations when tapping icons in the tab bar.