Signal vs. Telegram: Which encrypted messaging app wins?

Both Signal and Telegram have their strengths and weaknesses.

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Many users left the well-known chat programme WhatsApp last year after it started requiring users to share data with Facebook, switching to alternative free messaging services in its place. Two of the most popular alternatives to Signal and Telegram are also included in our list of the top encrypted chat applications.

However, Signal and Telegram differ significantly from one another and are likely to appeal to various users in different ways. Let’s compare them against one another to see how they compare.

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Signal vs. Telegram: Features compared

SignalTelegram
EncryptionEnd-to-end by default using the Signal ProtocolSome end-to-end options using the MTProto 2.0 protocol
Data collectedNone except phone numberPhone number, contacts, IP address
Messaging typesIndividual, group, video, voiceIndividual, group, channels, video, voice
Self-destruct messagingYes, for all chatsYes, for Secret Chats only
CustomizationLimitedExtensive
CostFreeFree

Signal vs. Telegram: Which is more secure?

If security is your main priority, then Signal is the obvious pick. For starters, all Signal messages are encrypted end-to-end by default which means that no one but you and the people you chat with can access your messages.

With Telegram on the other hand, only some of the service’s messages and voice calls have end-to-end encryption. The rest could potentially be visible to Telegram employees, law enforcement and others. We’ll go into more detail on the different message types below.

Signal’s open-source encryption protocol is available for anyone to see and examine and as a result, any security flaws can be found and fixed quickly. It’s also worth noting that its encryption is used by WhatsApp.

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Telegram employs its proprietary MTProto 2.0 protocol, which is client-side open source, for its encrypted Secret Chats. The “homegrown encryption technology” used by Telegram has a poorer track record than that of Signal, according to several security experts. However, the general opinion appears to be that MTProto 1.0  is less secure than the most recent version (PDF).

A 2020 academic study paper asserts that the MTProto 2.0 protocol used by Telegram is solid in its fundamentals. The report did, however, warn that “additional analysis” is required “in order to pronounce this protocol suite definitely safe.”

Signal also collects far less data on users than Telegram does. Signal generally only stores the date on which you created your account as well as the last time you connected. In contrast, Telegram’s metadata may include your IP address (which can give away your location) as well as who you are talking to and when. That matters when the authorities show up at Telegram’s facilities with a search warrant.

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Although you can start Signal chats by typing in another person’s phone number, Telegram requires access to your contacts before you can message anyone. For those who are concerned about big tech snooping on their private conversations, Signal once again proves to be the better choice.

While Signal is owned by a non-profit foundation, Telegram was founded by the Russian billionaires Pavel and Nikolai Durov who also created the country’s largest social network, VK. The brothers no longer live in Russia and even though their company is based in London, many of its central operations are in Dubai.

Signal vs. Telegram: Device support

Telegram has a slight edge in this category, with support for Windows Phone as well as a Chrome browser extension and a fully web-based option. Both Signal and Telegram are available on the following platforms:

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iOS (Signal, Telegram)

MacOS (Signal, Telegram)

Android (Signal, Telegram)

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Windows (Signal, Telegram)

Linux (Debian-based distros for Signal, 32-bit and 64-bit versions for Telegram)

Signal vs. Telegram: Installation and ease of use

The installation process for both apps is relatively simple: Download the software for your preferred platform, register using your phone number, and enter the verification code received via SMS. (In some cases, Telegram will call you with the code instead.) 

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Both platforms require a first name to finalize your profile, but neither require that name to be your real name. You can use an alias or, with Signal, an emoji. You’ll be asked whether you want to enable app permissions, such as access to your contacts.

Signal then requires you to create a PIN. This step is optional, but recommended, with Telegram and can be found under Settings > Privacy & Security > Passcode Lock. 

Before you can enable a desktop version of either Signal or Telegram, you must set up your account via the mobile app. Signal has an in-app QR code for linking other devices. Telegram provides a similar QR code, but you can also use your phone number and an SMS verification code. 

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Prior to this year, whenever you changed your phone number, Signal needed you to register a new account. As long as you continue to use the same phone, you may now migrate your account to a new number. (If you’re not transferring from Android to iOS or vice versa, you can also move your account to a new phone with the same number as the previous one.)

Telegrams makes it much simpler and possible to change phone numbers directly from the app. Since numerous devices may be signed into a single Telegram account as long as they use the same phone number, switching phones is not an issue at all. (However, you should maintain your Telegram password a well guarded secret.)

Signal vs. Telegram: Features

Both apps are similar when it comes to chat options.

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Individual messages: Signal’s individual messages are encrypted end-to-end by default, while Telegram’s basic one-on-one chats are not. If you want to protect your communications in Telegram from Telegram itself, you’ll have to start a Secret Chat. 

Group chats: Both platforms offer a group messaging option. Again, Signal’s is encrypted end-to-end, while Telegram’s is not. (There’s no Secret Chat equivalent for groups.) Signal groups can include up to 1,000 users while Telegram allows up to 200,000 group members. 

Voice and video calls: Both platforms have voice and video calling features. Signal’s encrypted calls can be made individually or contain up to 40 users in a group. 

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Telegram has end-to-end encrypted, one-on-one video calling as well as a voice-chat feature that allows large groups to hold conversations in which members can come and go. Telegram’s group voice chats are encrypted from the client device (i.e., a phone or desktop) to the server, but not from one end to the other. This means that someone who has access to Telegram’s servers can listen in.

Disappearing messages: Signal messages in any individual or group chat can be set to disappear within anywhere from five seconds to one week. Telegram has a similar self-destruct option that is no longer only for Secret Chats, but also for regular chats. 

From there, the bonus privacy features differ slightly, and Signal has fewer of them. There’s an image-blur tool that allows you to hide faces in photos and videos — handy if you’re sending media from protests. There’s also a screen-lock setting that requires your password or biometric access to open the app. (Telegram has one too.)

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With Telegram, you can opt to delete payment or shipping information communicated in your chats, to unsend messages (which deletes them for both the sender and the recipient), and to self-destruct your account automatically if it goes unused for a set period of time. 

Telegram also operates more like a social-media network with its Channels function and a bunch of other settings we’ll get into below. 

Channels allow users to broadcast messages — including text, photos, videos, files and podcasts — to an unlimited number of subscribers. The communication is one-way, like a radio station, and subscribers can’t respond to channel messages. Channels can be public or private/invite-only.

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Signal vs. Telegram: User experience

Telegram has a lot more options to customize your experience, so in that sense, it’s the frontrunner in this category. There are a ton of settings you can adjust around font size and color themes; emojis and animations; and notifications.

The app will create playlists if you send multiple song files at once and launch them in its built-in media player. You can run polls and quizzes, edit photos and videos, and view other users who happen to be physically near you with People Nearby (not a privacy-friendly feature). 

Signal is a much simpler app in which the focus is on sending basic text, media and voice messages securely, although it recently introduced animated stickers and added to its available emojis. Overall, Signal is easy to navigate and doesn’t require a lot of customization to get the most out of your experience. 

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Signal vs. Telegram: Verdict

Ultimately, the choice between Signal and Telegram depends on your priorities. If security and encryption are at the top of your list, Signal is the best option no matter which other features you use.

If you want to be able to send encrypted messages only on occasion and make use of social-network-style features, then Telegram may be a better fit. Just keep in mind that you must actively select Telegram’s Secret Chat option if you want your communications to be encrypted end-to-end. .

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