Telegram vs. WhatsApp: Which One is More Private?

Telegram logo, WhatsApp logo and versus icon with magnifier on top of it
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Telegram vs Whatsapp: A Comparison

Telegram has experienced unprecedented growth over the last few years. This is mainly due to the app being considered privacy-friendly compared to its larger rival, Whatsapp. Whatsapp — a Meta-owned company — has come under scrutiny recently due to tweaks to its privacy policy.

Unlike Whatsapp, Telegram is not owned by any major technology company and user privacy is at the core of the company’s ethos.

Here are some measures Telegram takes to keep its user’s data private.

  • Encryption (secret chat): Feature for end-to-end encryption for your chats
  • Deleting entire message threads: The ability to delete not only yours, but other people’s messages from both devices
  • Self-destructing chats: Auto-deleting chats after a pre-set amount of time
  • Screen lock: Lock the app with a passcode or fingerprint
  • Hide your phone number: Hide your phone number from all users
  • Two-factor authentication: Lock the app with a second password

Whatsapp has similar features that stack up quite well, though its privacy policy isn’t quite as clear and straightforward as Telegram’s. Below read our full article and decide which one of the two works for you.

In recent years, there has been a rush amongst users to uncover the most privacy-friendly messaging app on the market. This goes to show that users are not only concerned about the basic functionality of an instant messaging app — such as sending messages, videos, pictures, or making video calls — but also about the privacy and security of their data while doing so.

In this article, we take a look at Telegram vs. WhatsApp and uncover which one is more private. We delve into each app and into the functionality and privacy features adopted by them to keep user data private.

What is Telegram?

Telegram app logo smallTelegram is a cross-platform instant messaging app that focuses on user privacy. It was founded by Pavel Durov and his brother Nikolai in 2013. The company is registered in the British Virgin Islands, which is good news for the privacy-minded. It is also open-source, meaning all the code related to it can be scrutinized and verified by security experts and the general public.

The privacy-friendly messaging app is free for users and is funded by billionaire founder and current CEO, Pavel Durov. This is part of Telegram’s ethos to keep the company independent and not reliant on any major tech company.

In addition, in 2020, Telegram introduced Telegram premium to boost revenue. Telegram premium is a paid version of the app that offers additional features. These features include but are not limited to:

  • No ads
  • 4 Gb upload limit
  • Unique stickers
  • Badges and icons
  • Animated stickers & profile pictures
  • Faster download speed

Telegram is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS devices.  Telegram, however, doesn’t have end-to-end encryption for all its messages like WhatsApp.

What is WhatsApp?

WhatsApp logo smallWhatsApp is the largest free instant messaging app and is used by billions of people all across the world. The app is owned by Meta, which owns Facebook.

Unlike Telegram, all messages sent by WhatsApp users are end-to-end encrypted. However, after an announcement that allows WhatsApp to share user data with parent company Meta, users have been left questioning the platform’s privacy policy.

The app is entirely free with no ads on the platform. But, being owned by Meta, users are not sure of the data collected and shared with Facebook, and to what extent it’s used.

In 2021, WhatsApp launched its first advertising campaign to try and quell privacy concerns.

Telegram vs. WhatsApp – Which Has the Bigger User Base?

Telegram is one of the fastest growing and most downloaded apps. According to the Telegram website, the app has over 700 million active monthly users and was in the top 5 of the most downloaded apps in 2022. The number of monthly active users has seen an increase by over 150 million users since 2021.

On the other hand, WhatsApp is the largest instant messaging app in the world and has over 2 billion users as of 2021, with an estimated 100 billion messages sent across the platform daily. This has given WhatsApp an edge over Telegram due to most users being on WhatsApp, hence having a difficult time converting to other messaging platforms and leaving their acquaintances behind.

Signal vs WhatsApp Banner Winner WhatsApp

Telegram vs. WhatsApp – Which Has More Features?

Both apps are instant messaging services that offer basic features such as chats, calls, profile pictures, images, videos, emojis, and much more. However, some features have been improved by these chat apps, as noted below.

FeaturesTelegramWhatsApp
End-to-end encryption“Secret chats” onlyAll chats
Group CapacityUp to 200,000 membersUp to 512 members
File CompressionRequests permissionCompresses automatically
StorageUnlimited server storageMobile storage
Transfer Limit2 GB data transfer limit100 MB data transfer limit
Voice CallsUnlimited number of participantsUp to 8 participants
Video CallsUp to 30 participantsUp to 8 participants
BotsAvailable for all usersFor business accounts only
Premium featuresAvailableNot available

Considering the number of participants allowed on calls and chats, and that Telegram gives the option of end-to-end encryption through secret chats, we think they’ve taken the lead overall in the features department.

Telegram vs WhatsApp Banner Winner Telegram

How Secure Are Telegram and WhatsApp? Six Important Security Features

Telegram is considered a privacy-friendly app. Below we dive into some key security features that make it so, and see how WhatsApp compares.

1. Encryption (‘Secret Chat’)

The secret chat feature on Telegram allows for total privacy by encrypting messages from end to end. These are only for one-on-one chats from supported devices (essentially only mobile at this point). This is because secret chats are not stored on the cloud and require permanent storage on the device. Something that Telegram Desktop and Telegram Web don’t support at the moment.

With that said, secret chat has additional privacy-enhancing features such as:

  • Disappearing messages
  • Can’t forward chats
  • Permanent chat deletion on Telegrams’ servers

Activate secret chats on Telegram

If you’d like to use the secret chat option on Telegram, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Telegram app on your phone.
  2. Tap on the person you would like to start a Secret chat with.
  3. At the top, tap on their user name.
  4. Click on the three dots on the top right corner.
  5. Screenshot of Telegram app, three dots menu highlighted
  6. Tap on “Start Secret Chat” from the drop-down menu.
  7. Screenshot of Telegram app, three dots menu, Start Secret Chat option highlighted
  8. Confirm you want to start a secret chat with the person.
  9. Screenshot of Telegram app, Confirm Secret chat

How Whatsapp stacks up: Encryption

Unlike Telegram, WhatsApp’s encryption is end-to-end for all its chats.  Which makes it a secure messaging app for its users by default. The service also offers disappearing messages and media, which we discuss later.

Though Telegram’s secret chat feature is excellent, since you’ve got to use it specifically, we lean toward WhatsApp in this department.

Signal vs WhatsApp Banner Winner WhatsApp

2. Deleting other people’s messages

Telegram offers an intriguing (if not controversial) feature that allows users to delete messages in a conversation from both sides. Telegram’s CEO says it’s for good reason. He explains that relationships and friendships come and go, but unfortunately, users can access these saved messages long after the fact.

For this reason, he said it’s a good idea for users to have total control over their conversations on messaging platforms.

Delete an entire chat from both sides

Here’s how to delete a conversation/message on Telegram, either yours, your acquaintances, or entire chats.

  1. Open the Telegram app on your phone.
  2. Tap on the conversation you’d like to delete chats from.
  3. To delete an entire chat, tap on the three dots on the top-right of the screen.
  4. Tap “Delete chat.”
  5. In the popup, check the box “Also delete for …” to delete the chat for them too.
  6. To delete a specific message for both sides, long press on the message you’d like to delete (whether you sent it or your counterpart).
  7. Once highlighted, click on the bin that pops up on the top-right side of the screen.
  8. In the popup, check the box that you would like to delete for the other person too.
  9. Tap “Delete chat.”
  10. Screenshot of Telegram, Delete chat

How WhatsApp stacks up: Chat deletion

WhatsApp allows you to delete your chats on your device as well as from other users’ devices. However, unlike Telegram, you can only delete chats for yourself and other users within a certain time frame of around an hour. After that, you’ll not be able to delete your messages on other users’ devices, but only yours.

If you succeed in deleting chats from both sides in time, WhatsApp still leaves a clue that the message(s) was deleted. The freedom to completely erase both sides of a chat, while a bit controversial, does allow an extra level of privacy. We’ve got to give it to Telegram just for the option. Whether or not you want to use it or have it used by someone is up to the user.

Telegram vs WhatsApp Banner Winner Telegram

3. Self-destructing chats/media in regular/secret chats

The self-destruct timer/ auto-delete feature is available for all Secret Chat messages and private cloud chats on Telegram. It enables users to set a pre-defined time for messages to be automatically deleted or self-destruct.

Screenshot of Telegram self destruct message

Telegram’s auto-delete feature offers a range of pre-set time ranges to choose from. You can choose for a message to self-destruct after a day of being sent, up to a year.

How WhatsApp stacks up: Self-destructing messages

WhatsApp messenger has a similar feature that can be enabled in private or group chat settings. However, it does not offer a variety of pre-set times for messages to disappear, compared to Telegram. For instance, on WhatsApp, the set time for messages to disappear can either be after 24 hours, 7 days, or 90 days.

Signal vs WhatsApp Banner Tie

4. Screen lock

Despite using secret chats for your communication, the fact remains that messages are accessible on your phone, including secret chats. This means anyone besides you with access to your phone can access these messages.

To curb this, Telegram has a screen lock feature that you can activate, which requires a fingerprint scan or passcode to access Telegram. Here’s how to turn it on.

  1. Open the Telegram app on your phone.
  2. Click the three lines on the top-left side of the screen.
  3. Tap on “Settings.”
  4. Screenshot of Telegram app, Main menu
  5. Tap on “Privacy and Security.”
  6. Screenshot of Telegram app, Settings
  7. Under Security, click “Passcode Lock.”
  8. Screenshot of Telegram app, Privacy and Security menu, Passcode Lock option highlighted
  9. Click “Enable Passcode” at the bottom.
  10. Screenshot of Telegram app, Enable passcode
  11. Create a four-digit code that you’ll use to unlock your Telegram app.
  12. Screenshot of Telegram app, Create a passcode
  13. Re-enter the passcode on the next screen.
  14. Screenshot of Telegram app, Re-enter your passcode
  15. After that, you can choose to unlock with your fingerprint.
  16. Screenshot of Telegram app, Passcode lock menu
  17. You can also set the app to auto-lock after a pre-set amount of time.
  18. Screenshot of Telegram app, Auto-lock timer options

Voila! Your Telegram app is now passcode protected. Please note, that if you forget your passcode, you’ll need to log out or reinstall the app. All secret chats will be lost.

How WhatsApp stacks up: Screen lock

WhatsApp also offers an identical feature for password-protecting the app, although it has fewer time interval options. Since these two features essentially offer the same functionality, we can mark it as a tie.

Signal vs WhatsApp Banner Tie

5. Hide your phone number

Telegram requires you to provide your phone number upon registration for the service. At the same time, the service allows you to keep your phone number private by hiding it. By default, the only person who can see your phone number is a contact whom you’ve saved on your phone.

Through Telegram settings, you can choose whom to share your phone number with. Here’s how:

  1. Open the Telegram app on your phone.
  2. Click the three lines on the top-left side of the screen.
  3. Tap on “Settings.”
  4. Screenshot of Telegram app, Main menu
  5. Tap on “Privacy and Security.”
  6. Screenshot of Telegram app, Settings
  7. Under Privacy, tap on “Phone Number.”
  8. Screenshot of Telegram app, Privacy and Security menu, Phone Number option highlighted
  9. Under “Who can see my phone number?“, choose “Nobody.”
  10. Screenshot of Telegram app, phone number settings with focus on who can see my number

We recommend setting this feature to “Nobody.” This way, your phone number remains completely anonymous.

How WhatsApp stacks up: Hide your number

Unlike Telegram, WhatsApp requires users to have their phone number to chat with you in the first place. This obviously makes it difficult to keep your number private from other users, so Telegram takes the win here in regards to privacy.

Telegram vs WhatsApp Banner Winner Telegram

6. Two-factor authentication

Another way to protect your messages from getting exposed in case someone gains access to your phone is by activating two-factor authentication (2FA), that’s available on Telegram. Two-factor authentication lets you add a second password entered after an SMS code, which you’ll need to use whenever you log in to your Telegram account.

Here’s how to activate it:

  1. Open the Telegram app on your phone.
  2. Click the three lines on the top-left side of the screen.
  3. Tap on “Settings.”
  4. Screenshot of Telegram app, Main menu
  5. Tap on “Privacy and Security.”
  6. Screenshot of Telegram app, Settings
  7. Under Security, click “Two-step verification.”
  8. Screenshot of Telegram app, Privacy and Security menu, Two-Step Verification option highlighted
  9. Tap “Set Password.”
  10. Screenshot of Telegram app, Set password
  11. Enter the password you would like to use.
  12. Screenshot of Telegram app, Create a password
  13. Re-enter your new password.
  14. Screenshot of Telegram app, Re-enter password
  15. Enter a hint to remind you of your password in case you forget it (optional).
  16. Screenshot of Telegram app, enter password hint
  17. Enter a recovery email in case you forget your password (optional).
  18. Screenshot of Telegram app, Recovery Email
  19. If you choose to skip providing an email, you’ll get the warning below.
  20. Screenshot of Telegram app, warning message about skipping password backup email

How WhatsApp stacks up: 2FA

WhatsApp also boasts two-factor authentication that offers extra security for your chats by protecting them from third-party snoopers and outsider login attempts. In this day and age, two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication is a security essential. We’d actually be rather shocked to find either didn’t have some variation of this feature.

Signal vs WhatsApp Banner Tie

Is Telegram Private?

Telegram has positioned itself as a privacy-friendly instant messaging app. The app has gained a lot of traction in recent years due to people looking for an alternative to WhatsApp. This was largely caused by an announcement by WhatsApp regarding changes to its privacy policy. WhatsApp has since tried to amend this through public relations and advertising campaigns.

This is one area in particular where Telegram shines. It has a straightforward, easy-to-read privacy policy that lays out clearly how it uses your data. According to Telegram, it operates under two main principles when collecting and processing private data: “We don’t use your data to show you ads,” and “We only store the data that Telegram needs to function as a secure and feature-rich messaging service.”

So in their self-described mission, data is only used to improve the service and deal with fraudulent activity. They claim that email addresses are only used for two-factor authentication and password recovery, and won’t ever be used for marketing purposes.

Privacy protection measures

One of the key features of a secure and private instant messaging app is end-to-end encryption. However, Telegram does not implement it in its private and group chats, but only in “secret chats.” Meaning, that these private and group chats are stored on Telegram’s servers and can be accessed by Telegram or an attacker who successfully breaches these servers. While those secret chats would be completely scrambled and useless to anyone who could access them, perhaps regular chats might not.

To secure messages from attackers, though, private and group chats on Telegram implement a custom open-source encryption protocol called MTProto, which was developed by founding Durov brother, Nikolai. The founders have made efforts to ensure protocol is secure. For example, since MTProto is open-source, they have a bug bounty program that rewards security experts when they report a vulnerability in the protocol to Telegram.

However, there are mixed feelings regarding Telegram developing a protocol from scratch instead of using trusted and verified encryption protocols that are already in place. With that said, so far, MTProto has yet to be successfully attacked or any serious vulnerabilities uncovered.

What to know about Telegram’s parent company and founders

Many users of Telegram — especially the earliest adopters — also support the vision and approach of its founders, Russian brothers, Pavel and Nikolai Durov. The company is registered in the British Virgin Islands (which has privacy-friendly data retention laws) and as an LLC in Dubai, where Pavel Durov and Telegram’s team of 15 core members currently reside.

Before Telegram, the brothers founded a Russian social network known as VK, which they left in 2014, alleging it had been taken over by president Vladimir Putin’s allies. Thereafter, Pavel sold his remaining stake in VK and fled Russia claiming government pressure.

Later on, Nikolai Durov developed MTProto, which is the encryption protocol Telegram uses, while Pavel provided financial support and infrastructure. Today, billionaire Pavel continues to fund Telegram out of pocket and states that its end goal is not to bring profit, although the company is not structured as a non-profit. Currently, they are expanding into premium versions of the app to generate extra revenue for growth.

Telegram vs. WhatsApp: Security Feature Comparison at a Glance

Security and privacy iconA majority of users today are concerned about their security and privacy when it comes to instant messaging apps. Citing concerns that their data may be shared with third parties or used for targeted advertisements.

Both WhatsApp and Telegram have implemented security features that are indispensable for protecting users online. Both apps share almost similar privacy features, with the only notable difference being all WhatsApp chats are end-to-end encrypted while Telegrams’ are not, instead you have to use “Secret Chat” to access the encryption.

FeatureTelegramWhatsApp
Current # of monthly users550 million2 billion
Parent CompanyTelegram. Inc.Meta Platforms, Inc. (formerly Facebook, Inc.)
Data Sharing
End-to-end encryption optional
Screen Lock
Two-factor authentication
Hide your phone number limited
Disappearing message feature

On the other hand, Telegram is adamant about protecting users’ privacy and data hence it’s not affiliated with any large tech companies or focused on turning a profit. WhatsApp, however, is owned by Meta, the parent company of Facebook.

The company raised concerns among users when it announced that it would share some WhatsApp user data with Meta.

Final Thoughts

Here are some final thoughts on privacy, security and convenience:

  • Security-wise, WhatsApp implements end-to-end encryption on all chats and uses the highest-level security protocols available. However, there is still concern over what data WhatsApp shares with Meta and Facebook, that it doesn’t offer encryption for chat backups, and “mines” the metadata of your messages. So while your data is secured, privacy-conscious users might wonder how it’s being used.
  • While Telegram collects a bit of user metadata, it doesn’t do so as extensively as WhatsApp. Namely, the metadata Telegram collects is your IP address, your contact list to match you with contacts who also use the service, and the history of username changes. It stores this data for up to a maximum of twelve months. The features we outlined above, when used properly, allow for a more private messaging experience.
  • In general, WhatsApp has a bigger user base meaning most people you meet will be using it. Not to mention friends, family and other close acquaintances will be using WhatsApp as the instant messaging platform of choice. Its convenience over other platforms can’t be ignored.

But to maintain your privacy while communicating with others, we advise using Telegram with the features mentioned here enabled.

From our reviews and comparisons, we’ve come to find that Signal is the most privacy-friendly of encrypted messaging apps. For further research, you might be interested in comparing the privacy features of Signal vs. WhatsApp, or checking out our ranking of the best encrypted messaging apps.

Telegram vs. WhatsApp: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a question that wasn’t answered in the article? Please find the most commonly asked questions below.

When it comes to privacy and security, Telegram is the better choice. While WhatsApp has some strong encryption, the app’s ties with Meta remain questionable. Telegram doesn’t have a system built on selling customer data, like Meta does, making it the better choice. You can read more in our Telegram vs WhatsApp comparison.

Telegram is a strong proponent of privacy among its users. Compared to WhatsApp, Telegram is not owned and has no affiliation with any major technology company. It’s also not focused with turning a profit especially through selling user data. The company is mostly funded by the owner, making Telegram a better choice for privacy than WhatsApp, which collects a lot of information about you.

Telegram is considered a safer and privacy-friendly app among many users compared to WhatsApp. However, Telegram lacks one key factor when it comes to securing user data and that’s end-to-end encryption for chats. This means Telegram can access user chats stored on the server. On the other hand, WhatsApp implements end-to-end encryption on all chats, meaning only the sender and receiver can access them.

Tech journalist
Ian is an enthusiastic content writer who loves researching and writing about cybersecurity, internet privacy and online freedom. He's a marketer and cybersecurity enthusiast who aims to educate others through his writing. During his downtime, he enjoys going on nature walks and baking sourdough bread.