Mobile messaging (IM) applications like WhatsApp, WeChat, Signal, and Telegram are becoming an ever-increasing part of our lives, with their ease of sending texts and multimedia files, and making calls. Additionally, features such as end-to-end encryption in the mobile IM applications offer better security during communication. While these IM apps by default give other people the ability to view your name, profile picture, phone number, and other personal information, they do offer users a variety of options to safeguard their privacy.
In a previous blog, we compared the security and privacy of different mobile messaging apps. In the sections below, we will guide you through the privacy settings and the best way to adjust your privacy settings in popular apps like: WhatsApp, WeChat, Signal, and Telegram
Privacy settings in WhatsApp
If you do not have any privacy preferences set in your WhatsApp account settings, then the details such as the time when you were last seen online (last seen), your ‘profile photo’, and ‘about information’ will be accessible to any WhatsApp user. The time that you received and read a message in WhatsApp can also be viewed by the sender (read receipts). Also, any WhatsApp user can add you to a WhatsApp group without your prior consent, and every person on your contact list will be able to see your status updates.
- For locating the WhatsApp privacy settings in Android:
Tap Settings >Account > Privacy
- For locating the WhatsApp privacy settings in iOS:
Tap Settings >Account > Privacy
- For locating the WhatsApp privacy settings in KaiOS:
Press Options > Settings >Account > Privacy
In the Privacy screen in WhatsApp account settings you can set your preference for Last seen, Profile photo, About, Status, Read receipts, and Groups.
Everyone, My contacts, and Nobody are the three preferences that you can choose for your Last seen, Profile photo, and About settings. The three preferences allow you to show your corresponding privacy setting either to everyone, only to the people in your contact list, or to no one.
In Status in the Privacy screen, you can select My contacts for all your contacts to be able to see your status. If you do not want certain people in your contacts to see your status, then you can tap My contacts except… and add those numbers to the list. Or, alternately, if you wish to show your status only to a certain set of people in your contacts, then tap Only share with… and add those numbers to the list.
There is another option where you can create a blocklist to add numbers from your contacts, for whom you do not wish to send or receive messages in WhatsApp. You can also enable fingerprint lock on your WhatsApp application, where you will be required to use your fingerprint every time to unlock the application (You can always answer WhatsApp calls without using your fingerprint).
Privacy settings in WeChat
If you are a WeChat user, then your recent ten posts in your WeChat Moments will be visible to any WeChat user. By default, all your WeChat Moments will be visible to your WeChat friends.
For locating the WeChat privacy settings (Android/iOS), tap Me > Settings > Privacy
WeChat offers a multitude of options for you to optimize your privacy experience in the application. If you wish to hide your WeChat Moments from strangers, you can tap the Make Last 10 Moments Public toggle button, and turn it OFF. You can hide your posts from certain people in your friends list by adding such people to the list in Hide My Posts. You can also add people from your friends list to the list in Hide Their Posts, so that you don’t have to see the posts by those people.
You can always add or remove people from the list in Hide My Posts and Hide Their Posts.
WeChat also offers a blocklist, where you can create a list of people whom you do not want to send or receive messages in WeChat.
The Visible to Friends feature gives you three options: Last 6 months/Last 3 days/All. After you select an option, only your WeChat Moments for the selected time period will be available, and all Moments before that will be hidden from your friends.
While posting a WeChat Moment, you can use Share With to determine who all can view that particular moment. Four options are available: Selecting All will allow all your contacts to view the Moment. If Private is selected, only you will be able to see your Moment. The third option is Share With, where you can add people from your contacts to a list, and only these people will be able to see your Moment. Don’t Share is the fourth option where you can add people from your contact list, and those people will not be able to see your WeChat Moment.
WeChat allows you to use a WeChat account based on either a WeChat ID or your mobile number. Other WeChat users can search for you using your WeChat ID or mobile number, and add you as their friend. If you wish not to be discoverable by either your WeChat ID or your mobile number, then you can turn it off inside Methods for Friending Me. If you toggle on the Require Friend Request, other WeChat users will be required to send you a friend request, and you should confirm the same before they can chat with you.
Privacy settings in Signal
The default end-to-end encryption provided for conversations and metadata makes Signal the most secure mobile chat application in current use. And due to this fact, we have seen a migration of users towards Signal. But, the application also offers other settings to give you a more private chatting experience.
For locating the Signal privacy settings (Android/iOS), tap your account avatar on the top-left of your screen. Then tap Privacy.
Screen Security is a feature that is exclusively available for Android users. If you are an Android user, turning this feature on will restrict you from taking any screenshots within the application. Enable Screen Security is an iOS exclusive feature where the app restricts the app content from being displayed in the App Switcher. Only a blank screen with the app’s logo can be seen.
Signal allows you to disguise your IP address while making or receiving calls (voice and video) in Signal. Tap Always Relay Calls to turn this feature on. Since such calls are routed through Signal servers the call quality can become low.
Incognito Keyboard is another Android-only feature where the app prevents the content you type from being sent to third-party servers.
For additional security and privacy, you can turn on the Screen Lock feature. Once the feature is turned on and you lock the app, you will be required to enter your screen passcode (or the biometric that you use to unlock the screen) to open the application. Turning the Registration Lock feature on restricts the registration of the app on a new device, or reinstallation of the app on an existing device, without the use of a preset PIN.
If you do not wish to see the content of your incoming messages in notifications, you can tap Notifications in the app Settings and select how much information you want to display.
Privacy settings in Telegram
Telegram is well known for its Secret Chat option where the app allows its users to have an end-to-end encrypted chat. Telegram offers a variety of options to ensure the privacy of its users.
For locating the Telegram privacy settings (Android/iOS), tap the sandwich button on the top-left of the screen. Then, tap Settings > Privacy and Security
Phone Number, Last Seen & Online, and Profile Photos in the Privacy and Security screen can either be set to be viewed by everybody, your contacts alone, or nobody.
Tap the Forwarded Messages and select the appropriate option so that you can select the people, who can add a link to your account while forwarding your messages. The Calls option helps you set the people who can call you and the Groups option allows you to set the people who can add you in group chats.
You can lock and unlock the Telegram app using Passcode Lock. You can further improve your privacy by enabling the Two-Step Verification that requires you to set a password.
Similar to other mobile messaging apps Telegram also offers you the option not to receive messages or calls from other Telegram users. For that, you will have to add the users from your contacts to the list in Blocked Users.
All the mobile messaging applications mentioned above provide their users with unique features to safeguard the user’s privacy. Even while these privacy settings are used, it is better to follow some best practices to ensure secure instant messaging.
While using WhatsApp, WeChat, Signal, Telegram, or any other mobile IM application for enterprise instant messaging, applicable regulations require you to monitor, record, and archive the conversations through such applications. TeleMessage offers recording and archiving solutions for regulated firms that use popular mobile messaging applications. The adoption of such a tool helps firms maintain regulatory compliance. The tools help firms perform activities like WhatsApp recording, Whatsapp archiving, WeChat recording, and WeChat archiving. TeleMessage will soon provide services like Signal archiving and Telegram archiving so that employees working in regulated firms can have a secure mobile messaging experience.
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