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Signal vs. WhatsApp: Which One is Better?

WhatsApp user viewing a message on their phone

Signal vs. WhatsApp: Which One is Better?

Millions of people use instant messaging apps daily to exchange photos, text messages, links, and more. However, they are all built differently.

Signal and WhatsApp are two popular messaging apps used worldwide. While both apps allow users to communicate, they have significant differences that make each messaging app unique.

In this guide, we will explore the similarities and differences between Signal and WhatsApp to find out which messaging app is better for your needs and preferences. We will examine factors such as functionality, usability, features, and above all, privacy and security.

Let’s get started on the Signal versus WhatsApp battle to help you make an informed decision on which messaging app to use!

Signal vs. WhatsApp: Side-by-Side Comparison

infographic for Signal vs WhatsApp
SignalWhatsApp
What is it?A free instant messaging app with a high focus on privacy for secure communication between usersThe world’s most popular messaging app with over 2 billion active users worldwide. It allows users to communicate with others via voice, text, and video calls.
Release DateJuly  2014January 2009
Monthly Active Users40 million (as of January 2023)Over 2 billion
Parent CompanySignalFacebook, Inc.
End-to-End Encryption?YesYes
AvailabilityAndroid, iOS, Windows, and macOSAndroid, iOS, Windows, and macOS
Open-Source?YesNo (partially open)
BackupEncrypted backup to local deviceEncrypted backup to iCloud or Google Drive

Signal vs. WhatsApp: What’s the Difference?

WhatsApp is the leading messaging app worldwide with over 2 billion monthly active users. As of September 2021, Signal was reported to have achieved approximately 40 million monthly active users; however, these numbers may have changed over time. Looking at the numbers, it’s evident that WhatsApp has more popularity than Signal, which seems to have recently joined the million download race.

While numbers can give some insight, they don’t tell you everything, so let’s go into more detail to give you in-depth insight to help you choose the messaging app that suits your needs.

Security and Privacy

Security is the most debatable topic between the two messaging services. In terms of security, end-to-end (E2E) encryption is one measure WhatsApp has incorporated to secure conversations. E2E encryption is available in all modes of communication the app enables, so all your shared photos, voice calls, video calls, and anything else is encrypted.

What that means is the sender and the recipient are the only people who can see and read the messages between them. WhatsApp can’t decrypt the contents of your calls, photos, or messages, hence your security and privacy are guaranteed.

It’s worth mentioning that WhatsApp uses the end-to-end protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems, the creators of Signal messenger. It’s a good thing, given that the Signal protocol is open-source, thoroughly evaluated by experts, and is generally considered one of the best protocols for incorporating end-to-end encryption in messaging applications. Even though all your conversations on WhatsApp use end-to-end encryption, the company doesn’t encrypt backups (local and cloud) and metadata, which is responsible for transmitting communication between two endpoints.

This aspect of WhatsApp’s security model has triggered major criticism. Although metadata doesn’t allow individuals to read your messages, it provides authorities with information on who you messaged, when you did it, and for how long.

Signal tops WhatsApp when it comes to security, regardless of it’s on the back-end or the front-end of the service. It uses the open-source Signal Protocol to incorporate end-to-end encryption. Similar to WhatsApp, end-to-end encryption works on all forms of communication on Signal.

While most users are okay with messages and call encryption, which WhatsApp offers, Signal goes a step further to encrypt the metadata as well. To safeguard user privacy from all angles, Signal came up with a new way of communication between the sender and the recipient called Sealed Sender. This feature denies everyone, including Signal, to know who is communicating with whom, making it a remarkable improvement in privacy protection.

signal private messenger messaging app texting mobile
Signal is much more protected than WhatsApp is, offering complete end-to-end encryption — including for your metadata.

©Boumen Japet/Shutterstock.com

Features

WhatsApp provides almost every feature you might need in a messaging application. You get group chat support services as well as the ability to send messages to multiple contacts in one instance.

In addition, you also get voice and video call support for both individual and group users. However, when it comes to group video calls, you are constrained to a maximum of 8 users at any given time.

Apart from that, WhatsApp offers WhatsApp Status — also referred to as Stories — which is a distinct feature that is unavailable in the Signal messaging app. Users appreciate this feature because it enables them to express their emotions and ideas to their closed ones. This feature turns WhatsApp into more than just a messaging service, functioning somewhat similarly to a social media platform in this regard.

Furthermore, it is possible to share all sorts of files on WhatsApp, though there are certain limitations on file size that must be followed. For videos, photos, and audio files, the limit is 16MB, while documents can be up to 100MB. In addition, the feature to share live locations with your contacts is also available, which is undoubtedly a helpful feature.

As WhatsApp is designed for general use, it provides seamless backup and restores features through cloud services like Google Drive and iCloud. And the best part is that backing up to the cloud is completely free.

With Signal, you can form groups and make group calls — a feature that has been missing for quite some time — however it’s impossible to broadcast “status” messages like you can on Signal. This is the only real feature missing from Signal that WhatsApp has.

Signal also offers features such as disappearing messages as well as the ability to send a one-time viewable image. It has an interesting “Note to Self” feature in which you can send yourself notes, unlike WhatsApp, where you are required to create a single-member group to jot down your personal thoughts and ideas.

In addition to that, Signal offers the capability to relay voice calls to its servers, which keeps your identity hidden from those you are contacting. The feature is somewhat comparable to what a VPN does. Signal also provides a built-in option to conceal your IP address. Additionally, you can enable an incognito keyboard while typing on Signal, activate dark mode, delete old messages in a single action, and use its robust photo editor to blur faces and private information from images.

Ownership

This is an important aspect since it allows you to know how companies are looking into monetizing user data. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook and, in the past, it was somewhat less invasive than Facebook’s social media platform, which is no longer the case.

WhatsApp has a new unsettling privacy policy that enables them to share data with the Facebook family applications to enhance ad targeting. In addition, there have been multiple accusations during WhatsApp’s time under Facebook that the company has violated encryption and created backdoors for government organizations.

There are also rumors about actualizing ads on WhatsApp, which gives Facebook the incentive to monetize your data. Given that WhatsApp doesn’t encrypt your metadata, Facebook can easily use it to track your behavior.

Signal is owned by the nonprofit, Signal Foundation, which is headed by cryptographers Moxie Marlinspike and Brian Acton. Marlinspike was formerly in charge of the Open Whisper System, which is the brainchild behind the Signal protocol. He and Acton joined forces in 2018 to form a new alliance — the Signal Foundation — which currently funds the development of the Signal messenger. Notably, Brian Acton co-founded WhatsApp and left the company three years after it was acquired by Facebook. He now oversees the development of Signal together with Moxie Marlinspike.

If you’re wondering how Signal makes money, it is purely run by donations and grants and you can donate to Signal as well to support its future development.

Usability

Both messaging services require you to provide your mobile phone number. WhatsApp now allows you to link up to four companion devices, but only one phone at a time. Similarly, you only use one phone at a time with Signal and up to other five companion devices (laptops, PCs, tablets).

Signal has added the option to use a PIN in place of a phone number, but the initial registration process requires a phone number. Once registered, you can use your PIN on another device or PC.

Signal vs. WhatsApp: 9 Must-Know Facts

  • Both Signal and WhatsApp offer users the ability to communicate with each other via voice, text, and video calls and are end-to-end encrypted, but WhatsApp doesn’t encrypt your metadata, causing privacy concerns, whereas Signal encrypts absolutely everything.
  • WhatsApp has recently announced that it will include end-to-end encryption during backups as it was only available when transferred to iCloud or Google Drive.
  • WhatsApp is owned by Facebook and, in the past, it was somewhat less invasive than Facebook’s social media platform, which is no longer the case as WhatsApp’s privacy policy has been updated to allow data sharing with the Facebook family to boost ad targeting.
  • Signal is the best choice for users concerned about the privacy and security of their data and the information exchanged in the app.
  • Signal is unaffiliated with any company that monetizes user data. It’s a nonprofit organization known as Signal Foundation dedicated to providing user privacy and is not in the data collection business.
  • Signal is an open-source platform, meaning security researchers can check vulnerabilities, and it’s not run for profit, whereas WhatsApp is a partially open platform as it doesn’t provide an open API to its business users.
  • Signal lacks the cloud backup feature, implying that chat history could be lost if your phone gets damaged or broken.
  • WhatsApp has Facebook integration, thus you can share content directly to WhatsApp from Facebook and Instagram.
  • While Signal beats WhatsApp privacy and security, it falls short on the features it provides. However, even with some features missing, Signal might still be your go-to messaging app.

Signal vs. WhatsApp: Which One Should You Use?

When torn between which messaging app to use, the decision ultimately comes down to privacy and convenience. Signal certainly reigns supreme privacy-wise.

The sticking point is if you can convince your friends and family to switch to Signal with you since it’s pointless to take a stance in privacy if you can’t communicate with your loved ones.

WhatsApp might be the more simple choice for users concerned with the ease of connecting with friends and family if most of their contacts already have WhatsApp. Most people have continued using WhatsApp despite its privacy policy, which users might not be aware of or don’t care about it.

Signal vs. WhatsApp: Which One is Better? FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is WhatsApp?

WhatsApp is a popular messaging app owned by Facebook that allows users to communicate with others via text, voice, and video calls. It was launched in 2009 and has since become one of the most widely used messaging apps worldwide, with over 2 billion active users.

Some key features of WhatsApp include:

  • End-to-end encryption: All messages and calls on WhatsApp are protected by end-to-end encryption, meaning that only the sender and recipient of the message can read or listen to it. However, your metadata is not protected, which is very important.
  • Group chats: WhatsApp allows users to create group chats with up to 256 people, making it easy to communicate with friends, family, or colleagues.
  • Voice and video calls: WhatsApp also supports voice and video calls, which can be made over Wi-Fi or cellular data connections.
  • File sharing: Users can send and receive files such as photos, videos, and documents on WhatsApp.

What is Signal?

Signal is a messaging app that is known for its strong focus on privacy and security. It was launched in 2014 by the Signal Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to create secure communication tools for everyone.

Some key features of Signal include:

  • End-to-end encryption: Like WhatsApp, all messages and calls on Signal are protected by end-to-end encryption. However, Signal goes even further by encrypting metadata (information about who you talk to and when) as well, making it completely impossible for anyone to spy on your conversations (unless, of course, they had your phone and could get into your Signal app).
  • Self-destructing messages: Signal allows users to send self-destructing messages, which disappear after a certain amount of time. This can be useful for sensitive or confidential conversations.
  • Group chats: Signal also supports group chats, with up to 1,000 members.
  • Voice and video calls: Signal offers high-quality voice and video calls, which can be made over Wi-Fi or cellular data connections.
  • File sharing: Users can send and receive files such as photos, videos, and documents on Signal.

Is Signal better than WhatsApp?

Deciding whether Signal is better than WhatsApp depends on your personal preference. If privacy is your top concern, then Signal is better for you. If you want to easily and quickly connect with your contacts, friends, and family, then WhatsApp is your go-to messaging app as it’s widely used.

Is Signal owned by Facebook?

No. Signal is owned by the nonprofit, Signal Foundation, an organization focused on privacy and security. Signal is not affiliated with any tech company in any way. On the other hand, WhatsApp is owned by Facebook.

Does Signal monetize your data?

No, Signal does not monetize your data. Signal is a privacy-focused messaging app that does not collect or store any user data beyond what is necessary to provide its messaging service. Signal’s business model is based on donations and grants from individuals and organizations that support its mission to protect users’ privacy and security. As a non-profit organization, Signal is not driven by profit motives and does not sell user data to third parties or display advertisements.

Can both apps be used for free?

Yes, both Signal and WhatsApp can be used for free. Both messaging apps are available for download from app stores for free and users can send messages, make voice and video calls, and share files with other users without paying. However, users may incur data charges from their mobile network provider if they use the apps on a cellular data connection instead of Wi-Fi.

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