Top 10 Questions To Select A Secure And Private Messaging App

Couple of weeks ago we came across important questions for selecting secure messaging apps for businesses. Many people have asked us, what consumers should take care of when selecting a private and secure messaging app? Ideally a provider of a messaging app should answer all the following questions with YES. Here we go:

1. Is the transmission of the messages and all communications between the app and the server protected with an SSL encryption?

2. Are the messages and content end-to-end encrypted? Meaning: Only the sender and the receiver of a message can read it (this is quite important)?

3. Are the messages stored in a completely encrypted form on the server?

4. Is the provider not able to read the messages on the server?

5. Does the provider completely anonymize user accounts, messaging logs and profiles, and thus fully protect the privacy of users?

6. Your address book data is only stored on your device, and not stored on the servers of the provider?

7. The messaging app provider has a strong privacy policy, and does not sell or trade user data?

8. Is there a regular backup of the data on the server?

9. Is all data stored on servers outside of the USA (where it cannot be easily accessed by US government agencies)?

10. Is the provider of the messaging app based outside of the USA (again: thus cannot be easily accessed by US government agencies)?

A lot of messaging apps claim to be completely safe and encrypted. However, there are huge differences between providers as you can tell by this questionnaire. Not a lot of apps can answer all questions with YES. You will have to judge by yourself, what questions and topics are most important for you, and thus select a private and secure messaging app for your needs.

Messaging Apps for Couples

Today I want to write a short post about messaging apps for couples. For modern-day couples these kind of messaging apps can be advantageous. Especially in situations where a spouse travels for work, or where the couple is in a long distance relationship.

A Private Space for Couples to Share

The most famous couple messaging apps are Avocado, Between and Couple. Another one called FeelMe is currently in the making. All these apps provide a private space for couples to share messages, photos, voice mails and videos. The advantage compared to classical texting is that you have dedicated app for your spouse, which you only have to open and can start texting right away (without searching for her/him). Some couples value a dedicated app where private moments and the history of their messaging texts are kept.

Between App for Couples

Special Features for Couples in Long Distance Relationships

However, since the benefits above alone might not be enough for some, most of these apps also offer shared to-do lists, sketches, albums and calendars. Further, apps like Couple and Avocado even offer “touch” features, showing when the other person is touching the phone. This should make the other person feel closer, even when she/he might be thousands of miles away due to a long distance relationship.

All couples apps above have a pretty nice design and user interface. If you are in search of a private messaging app for your spouse, try them out, and see which one best fits your need.

How PRISM Affects Messaging Apps

As a consequence of the PRISM scandal many users are worried about the protection of their privacy, and how safely service providers handle their data.

Probably most user data of messaging apps can be monitored

It seems that if you are not a USA citizen, the government and its agencies have less restrictions in regard to what data they can monitor. If you are a citizen of the USA, there seem to be more restrictions on how they can access your data.

Generally it is likely that the agencies get quicker access to companies based in the USA. In other countries legal hurdles will prevent a quick and direct access to a user’s data.

While reliable information is hardly available, not only big companies like Facebook, Sykpe, Google, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, etc. are affected by PRISM, but probably as well many smaller service providers including the ones offering messaging apps and services.

Privacy and data protection unlikely with messaging app providers from the USA

Thus, most messaging app providers from the USA could well be affected by PRISM. And just to remember, some of them often haven’t had a history of being secure.

Overall, from a privacy perspective this can be worrying. It is not that the normal user has something to hide, but that her content and data might be monitored and stored somewhere without her knowledge.

Messaging services with end-to-end encryption from other countries beneficial 

Of course, people could turn to encrypt their messages, but many of the messaging apps offering encryption are not easy to use or not performant enough to be competitive. iMessage and Facetime are some of the exceptions which are said to be end-to-end encrypted. However, if Apple really has no master key to unlock your data, remains an open question.

If you are worried about your privacy, it is maybe worth taking a look at European messaging providers (for more info please read our secure and private sharing article). Some European countries like Germany have pretty strong law with regard to privacy and data protection. This could well be a safe harbor.

How Messaging Apps Are Becoming The New Social Networks

While the media mainly discusses the strong growth and influence of social media, many people fail to realize a far bigger trend: The incredible growth of messaging apps, and how they are increasingly replacing traditional social networks.

Many messaging apps are strongly growing and have more than 100 millions users

Each mobile messaging app like WeChat, Line, Whatsapp, Kakao Talk and Viber has 100 million or even more users. Besides there are a lot of smaller and often more specialized players like Grouptime, Kik, Snapchat, etc. All of them not only seem to be strongly growing, but also rise at a much higher rate than the big social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Co.

The daily usage of messaging apps is among the highest of all mobile apps. Users open their messaging apps several times a day, and often send hundred messages or more. Compare that with social networks: They are still without doubt a place of regular visits, however, more for content browsing and entertainment (and killing boredom as some say). The intensive communication with close friends and family, something social networks were used for in the past, is handled increasingly by messaging apps. And if you believe the latest studies, the usage of social networks is clearly on the decline.

Group chats replace social networks for sharing with family and friends

While instant messaging apps have been primarily used for 1-to-1 conversations, some of them have started to offer simple group chat features. People quickly have found out that, in addition to straight forward communication and coordination, these group chats are great for quick photo sharing with family and friends. Especially because group chats are so easy to set up and completely private, they offer the right environment for private sharing without the complicated settings on social networks.

Some newer messaging apps like Grouptime now completely concentrate on group messaging and private sharing. You can share with one-click with personal groups like family and friends. The messaging inbox works with posts with nice, large photos like a social network, but in real-time like a messaging app. It is basically a real-time private social network.

Other apps like Line offer a status feed like on Facebook. Well, in this case there are no privacy controls, and it is not different than your well-known social network, so the benefit is quite limited. However, it shows how some messaging apps further enter the social networking realm.

Sharing of digital content with messaging apps gets better and better

Messaging apps don’t stop with group photo sharing. All content sharing features are widely improved: Users now can easily exchange whereabouts via location databases, videos, voice messages, calendar dates, website links and even YouTube videos. Furthermore, some apps allow you to share multiple content items and photos at once (Grouptime is a good example again).

In the future it is expected that even more content types can be shared, and also the integration in various third party apps and services will become common. In regard to innovative features, messaging apps have already taken the lead. Basically, all functions (including “liking”) of social networks and much more will be possible with the leading messaging apps.

Private sharing is strongly on the rise and far larger than public sharing

A recent study estimates that sharing via Facebook and Twitter is only the tip of the iceberg, and private sharing via instant messaging and email nowadays accounts for ca. 70% of all sharing. With the unstoppable rise of mobile messaging apps these figures will be outdated soon, and Facebook and Twitter will be further challenged. Even Mark Zuckerberg noted in a recent article, that sharing with smaller, private groups is the biggest trend Facebook is seeing.

How the social networking giants will react is unclear, but one thing is sure: Messaging apps will be the primary way to easily, privately and securely share with family and friends.

Best Content Sharing with Messaging Apps

The more popular messaging apps become, the more they become personal and private social networks (like Grouptime). Users privately share photos, moments, links, voice messages, locations, videos, calendar dates, etc. with family and close friends. That raises the question, which messaging apps are the best for content sharing. The capabilities of the various messaging apps actually strongly vary depending on the content type:

Exchanging and sharing photos

In addition to sending text messages, sharing photos is probably the most prominent uses case with messaging apps. Nowadays all popular messaging apps enable users to easily exchange single photos. The newer and better apps allow users to send multiple photos at once (Grouptime, Line, Kakao Talk).

Grouptime displays the photos in large and without bubbles in the chat, so users can view them nicely and directly without the need to open single photos. If several friends post their photos to a chat, this creates a great album of an event or a party, and it is great to easily exchange photos with friends.

Some apps enable users to add a caption (description) to a photo. Good examples are group messaging apps like Grouptime, Touch, Groupme.

Location sharing

Messaging apps are pretty good for private location sharing. You simply select your location, and send it to selected contacts or a group of friends. Since finding one’s location with the GPS or network stations is not very accurate (sometimes it is half a mile/kilometer away from the real position), some messaging apps offer a selection of locations around the position user. These messaging apps use location databases like Foursquare or Google Places to offer a wide selection of venues. With Whatsapp or Grouptime the user can simply choose the location where she is at (e.g. shop or restaurant), and send it – automatically including the address – to her friends. This is also great for giving directions.

Location sharing with Grouptime

Location sharing with Grouptime

Contact sharing

Not a very prominent use case, but for those of you, who regularly need to exchange contacts from your address book, check out ChatOn or Line.

Sharing moments

In general, messaging apps are not really made for sharing moments. The bubble style chats are mainly good for texting. There are some messaging apps, that have started walls or news feeds for sharing similar to Facebook. However, you always share publicly with everybody.

If you look for an app where you can privately share moments with selected people from your contacts, maybe Grouptime is something for you. Unlike other group messaging apps, Grouptime works with instant posts like a private social network. For sharing moments with private groups like family and close friends the app is pretty awesome.

Sending voice messages

Exchanging voice messages is mostly a standard feature of messaging apps in these days. Power users have turned to specialized apps like Voxer, which operate more like a walkie-talkie.

Calendar sharing

Currently there are only two messaging apps that enable users to share dates from their calendar: Grouptime and ChatOn. We prefer Grouptime, because the group messaging and sharing capabilities are better to exchange dates.

Link sharing

Nearly all messaging apps detect links in chats. However, most of them don’t offer any functionality around sharing links. If you want a preview of links or YouTube videos (like in social networks like Facebook), try Grouptime.

Group sharing of links with Grouptime

Group sharing of links with Grouptime

The future of content sharing

In the near future the content sharing with messaging apps will offer better functionality and more content types (documents, drawings, music, etc.). In addition, we will see better integration into 3rd party services. Some of these upcoming features have already become visible in very basic versions in a few messaging apps. Still, this is just the beginning of content sharing with messaging apps.

Private Messaging and Sharing Apps

In general people seem to become more and more privacy aware. While a couple of years ago social media and its related public sharing were a major trend, nowadays a kind of reverse trend has emerged. On the one hand people seem less comfortable with sharing everything with their hundreds of followers and friends on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, but complicated privacy settings make more private sharing a nuisance. And on the other hand people seem more worried what happens with their content and data, and how it might be used by these networks without their consent. Thus in order to stay in control of their privacy, people increasingly turn to messaging apps which can make it quite easy to privately share. There are some good examples of how messaging apps can help people to protect their privacy, and also some issues to be aware of.

“Self-destructing” Content

I guess an extreme example of privacy protection with a messaging app is Snapchat, which is mainly used for photo sharing. The sender determines how long a photo is visible for the recipient (the maximum viewing time is 10 seconds), and afterwards the photo is not viewable anymore. The app is a big hit among teens, who use the app for sometimes doubtful use cases, which are also referred to “sexting”. Having said that, while sharing “self-destructing” images seems to do a job, for sharing everything else (text messages, locations, links, etc.) the app is useless. Besides the user interface is very basic, and people who look for beautiful design will be rather turned off. Facebook already cloned Snapchat with the app “Poke”. However, Facebook is probably not the right choice when it comes to privacy. We generally expect that “self-destructing” content will become a feature of messaging apps and social networks. So for those of you who don’t need this right away, simply wait a couple of months and your messaging app of choice will probably include such a feature.

Private Sharing and Group Messaging

Most messaging apps (e.g. Whatsapp, Line, WeChat, ChatOn, FB Messenger) have group chats by now, which more and more people also use for private sharing with groups. Well, group chats are pretty useful for coordinating, but for private sharing they are far from perfect. First, the chats with the bubble style are not clearly laid out and can be confusing, especially when it comes to sharing content like photos, links and locations. And second, setting up and inviting people to a group is still too complicated and not really adequate for personal sharing. Our preferred solution for private group sharing is an app called Grouptime, which is a private social network that combines group messaging and classical social network sharing. With its beautiful and simple to use interface, the app makes it actually really easy to personally share all kinds of content with the people you choose. Besides grouptime allows you to share multiple photos at once, and displays large images of contents like locations, links and photos. Due to a recent blog post it seems that privacy protection is very important to Grouptime. So if your looking for an app to privately share with family and close friends, and haven’t tried Grouptime, check it out.

No Advertising

This is more a side note, but an important one: Messaging apps that include advertisements, normally need to analyze and mine user data for better targeting of ads. So if your privacy is important to you, make sure to choose a messaging app with a business model that does not rely on advertising.

European Provider

We would choose an European messaging app (e.g. Grouptime, Moped, Threema, Yuilop, MySMS, etc.), simply because Europe has by far the best law enforcement and civil rights when it comes to privacy and data protection. Especially the US-based services were not always the best examples when it came to security and privacy protection in recent years….not to mention the lack of privacy laws in the US.

Encrypted Communication

While for many users encryption is not a must-have feature (who wants to spy on me anyway?), nowadays it is often a standard practice among messaging apps to encrypt the communication (e.g. via https) as well as a users data. If this is a must-have feature for private sharing for you, simply check with your messaging app of choice. The required information is normally available directly on a providers website.

Recently Updated Messaging Apps

In the last weeks several instant messaging providers launched major updates of their apps. Most apps simply seem to copy other messaging apps or improve the more common features. Some messaging services seem to focus more on certain use cases and try to follow new trends.

Grouptime

Grouptime launched a major update of their iPhone version last week. This app is a good example of a differentiated use case. So if your are looking for a group messaging app where you can privately share with family or best friends with one click, Grouptime will probably the right solution for you. While you can use the app for 1:1 instant messaging, it is obvious that Grouptime concentrates on group messaging and group sharing. The redesigned message inbox of the new version of the app reminds me of a private Facebook feed, and thus their idea of a real-time private social network becomes evident.

The update includes new features, redesigns, performance improvements, iOS6 readiness, and many bug fixes. My impression is, that Grouptime has developed a beautiful, stable and well performing app.

Grouptime - Private Social Network

Group Messaging and Private Sharing with Grouptime

Kik Messenger

Kik introduced “Kik Cards” in their recent app updates. Kik Cards are optional features e.g. to share YouTube videos, find and share images and edit sketches. The advantage of this user interface design is that the app is kept simple. On the other hand some other messaging apps integrate these features simply as part of their attachments, so I am not sold on the idea of Kik Cards. It is probably their way to start monetizing third party services and applications being integrated into their service.

Kik Cards

Whatsapp

Especially in Europe Whatsapp has gotten a lot of bad press and negative feedback from customers, due to the lack of security of the service. For the last 12 months or so the leading instant messaging app has launched various updates to fix these security issues, but almost instantly security experts found new issues. No matter how important these security issues are for the average user of an instant messaging app. Still, it is kind ridiculous that the current market leader in the messaging space doesn’t manage to fix these things entirely.

Whatsapp optimized their iPhone app for iOS6 and included some minor bug fixes in the recent update. Their Android update focused on fixing security issues. Let’s see how many days it takes this time until someone finds a way to break into an account.

Others

Line, Kakao Talk and WeChat – the Whatsapp clones from Japan, South Korea and China repectively – all recently launched updates for their messaging apps. In addition to instant messaging, some of these apps offer VOIP calling, a social network feed like Facebook, integration of third party services and many more features. While all these messaging apps are very popular in Asia, the amount of features make them very cluttered and some users might find them confusing. Personally I am more a fan of messaging apps with a clean design, a clear use case and a simple user interface like Kik and Grouptime.