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When it comes to messaging apps, one is not enough

PIXABAY

Businesses are turning to encrypted messaging apps like Signal and Telegram for internal communication as security becomes a pressing concern, even as they remain active on established platforms like Messenger and WhatsApp — both owned by Facebook — for the convenience of their clients.

“I learned that it [Signal] has better encryption than WhatsApp and Viber,” said Charles O. de Belen, founder of renting platform Dibi.Rent, on using Signal for communicating with his team despite its “limited functionality.”

According to data from market intelligence firm Sensor Tower, Telegram and Signal grew by 1200% in the first four months of 2021 after WhatsApp announced that under its revised terms of service, it would share information with Facebook.

At a recent book launch, Mario R. Domingo, founder of machine learning shop Neural Mechanics Inc., said local businesses need to get on Facebook (despite privacy concerns), since that’s where all the Filipinos are.

“You’ve got to find a way somehow to put your business in front of users,” he said at the event. “In the context of the pandemic, it’s just a requirement.”

Neural Mechanics itself uses Slack for work; Viber for informal chats like birthday greetings; and Slack, Telegram, and WhatsApp for clients.

“As far as external messaging is concerned, we go with where the clients are,” Mr. Domingo said.

Doctors, too, are using messaging apps for consultations despite being on telemedicine platforms like SeeYouDoc and Medifi. “Viber is good because almost all doctors have it. So is Facebook Messenger,” said Dr. Janie-Vi Ismael-Gorospe, a general practitioner of Sta. Rosa Community Hospital. The issue with Messenger, she added, is the mingling of personal and professional messages (unless a doctor maintains a separate account for teleconsultations).

SELF-DESTRUCTING MESSAGES

WhatsApp is used by almost 90% of people in most countries, according to Internet security firm Nord VPN. There are only 25 out of 195 countries where WhatsApp isn’t the most used messaging app.

Viber, another ubiquitous messaging app, ended 2020 with a 421% growth in its number of users and a 509% growth in sent messages. In the Philippines, it has a penetration rate of 71%.

Sought for a response to concerns about user privacy, Viber’s spokesperson reaffirmed its commitment to such. The platform, she said, has a default end-to-end encryption and contains features that give users control of their data. Among these are Disappearing Messages, which enables each message with a self-destruct timer, and Community interactions, which allows for direct chats without the sharing of phone numbers.

“Viber can’t read your personal chats, or listen in on your one-on-one calls,” the spokesperson added. “Nothing you share is ever stored on Viber’s servers once delivered.”

Kaspersky, a digital privacy company, noted that the key considerations for evaluating messaging app security are:

End-to-end encryption – By scrambling private chat messages, only the sender and the user have the “keys” to read them.
Open-source code – This opens the app to accountability and auditing by external experts.
Self-destructing messages – A feature that allows messages to vanish after a set period of time.
Use of data – Certain types of information called metadata, such as your phone number, can still be collected despite end-to-end encryption.

— Patricia B. Mirasol

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