WhatsApp destroys Snapchat in messaging privacy scorecard

21 Oct 2016

Social media. Image: easy camera/Shutterstock

A report into the privacy attributes of several popular instant-messaging tools has found Snapchat to be one of the worst, though you have to go to China to spot the real losers.

Selecting 11 companies behind some of the most popular messaging apps in the world, Amnesty International looked into the privacy attributes provided by companies like Facebook, Apple and Microsoft.

Facebook was ranked the best company of those investigated, with Amnesty highlighting WhatsApp as a particularly positive tool, noting it as the “only app where users are explicitly warned when end-to-end encryption is not applied to a particular chat”.

Claiming to look at both how well they’re protecting your online privacy and “freedom of expression”, Amnesty’s primary judgement was on the implementation of encryption.


From top to bottom

Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime, along with Telegram, ranked highly for their end-to-end encryption by default model, but it’s grim reading for Snapchat, Blackberry and Tencent.

“Although [Snapchat] has a strong policy commitment towards privacy, in practice it does not do enough to protect its users’ privacy,” the report stated.

“It does not deploy end-to-end encryption and needs to do more to inform users about how the company is tackling threats to their rights – particularly as Snapchat’s ‘disappearing’ messages may give users a false sense of privacy.”

At the bottom was Tencent, the company behind WeChat and QQ, which are immensely popular messaging tools in China.

Receiving a score of 0/100, Amnesty said the company failed to adequately meet any of its criteria.

Why encrypt?

Encryption is quite a bugbear for policing and security authorities around the world at the moment, with Europol namechecking it as a serious problem with regard to cybercrime.

This is despite the increasing incidents of criminality that lack even the basics of encrypted communication.

Instant messaging tools market themselves on security and privacy more and more, ever since Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations shone a light on governmental overreach.

Despite being used as a reference to judge others against, Signal – a tool with privacy and encryption at such a high standard that it recently embarrassed US officials – does not feature in the ranking.

Open Whisper Systems, the developers of Signal, received a subpoena from the US government, asking the firm to cough up any information it had on accounts associated with two phone numbers.

Little to none

The company complied, handing over everything it had. Sadly for US authorities, what it had was very, very little.

The only data Signal could hand over was the date each account was created and the date it was last used. This is an example of complying with what could be considered governmental overreach and, subsequently, highlighting how little data you store on your customers.

Google’s recent release of Allo – and some significant backlash against its encryption and privacy protocols – was brought to the attention of Snowden, when he was asked his opinion on whether or not users could trust it.

“In seriousness, this is a complex question for which there is no one right answer. But relative to Allo, Signal is safer for normal users,” he said.

Amnesty’s scorecard (ranked out of 100) is:

  1. Facebook (Messenger, WhatsApp): 73
  2. Apple (Facetime, iMessage): 67
  3. Telegram: 67
  4. Google (Allo, Duo and Hangouts): 53
  5. Line: 47
  6. Viber Media: 47
  7. Kakao: 40
  8. Microsoft (Skype): 40
  9. Snapchat: 26
  10. Blackberry: 20
  11. Tencent: 0

Social media. Image: easy camera/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic