Security researchers also tend to worry about the fact that by default, WhatsApp backs up your data, including chat history, to your phone’s Google or iCloud account. This means that people may accidentally hand over some data to a third party without realizing it. You can disable these backups of course, but many users may not realize it’s happening. One final nitpick with WhatsApp’s security comes from the fact that everyone involved in a conversation needs to be using a recent version of the app that supports encryption in order for it work. This isn’t a huge deal for most of us, but if you have a friend who never updates their apps, the encryption may not be on for the conversation.
Both options are secure, but Signal is more privacy-friendly, partially because it lacks the number of features that WhatsApp has.
WhatsApp Has More Users and Features
WhatsApp was a messaging app first and added the security features later on. Signal was all about security first. Because of this, WhatsApp has more now-traditional chat features. Both Signal and WhatsApp also include voice calling and video calling to round out the messaging apps.
WhatsApp allows you to send read receipts, see typing indicators, mute conversations, block contacts, set notifications, and customize what’s downloaded. You can send your location, what you’re listening to, a voice memo, add in GIFs, and more. If you’re on iOS, WhatsApp integrates with Siri so you can send messages or hear messages while on the go. WhatsApp also has some of its own tricks, like Broadcast Lists, which is a group message that looks like it’s sent to a recipient directly, almost like an old-school SMS group spam chat. You can even set the wallpaper background for each conversation thread. WhatsApp does pretty much everything that the likes of iMessage, Messenger, or Hangouts does.
Signal can send files. That’s about it. It does include a modern style group chat function and you can set messages to delete themselves after a set amount of time, but in general, it’s very barebones, and that’s on purpose. The simpler it is, the easier it is to keep your data private and secure.
Neither Have Great Desktop Apps
Though WhatsApp is the one to get all the fancy new features we’re all used to in messaging apps, it’s weirdly behind with its desktop app, though Signal is only slightly better.
You can access Signal on your computer, but it’s a Chrome extension. Still, it works well enough. WhatsApp, in turn, has a web app and desktop clients, but they use your phone to access WhatsApp, which mean your phone needs to be nearby. If your phone isn’t connecting to the internet, the desktop client will not work. This one’s kind of a wash, neither are great, but at least they have options.
The Verdict: WhatsApp is Great for Security, Signal is Best for Privacy
The good news is that both Signal and WhatsApp are great, and both do their job well. Chances are you’re going to go where your friends are, but if you’re choosing between these two options, then pick which suits your needs.
Which is best for you depends on why you’re using a messaging app. If you want security, as in, you don’t want some random person or government reading your messages, then WhatsApp is plenty for you. If you prefer a full-blown, all-in, “nobody can see anything that you do in any way shape or form no matter what” solution, then Signal is the app for you.