On February 20th Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion (Read more). Even though they probably won’t change anything for the WhatsApp users, it is a good time to consider switching the messenger app. Why? Well, Facebook knows a lot about your private life and WhatsApp has a lot of data from your chats too. It is not a good idea to give one company too much power over your private life. Furthermore WhatsApp still has a lot of security issues and does not use open protocol standards. WhatsApp is also closed source, so you have no idea, how they use the app-permissions you gave them. Here is a small overview of WhatsApp open source alternatives:
|App name||size of userbase||mobile plattforms||group chat||attach- ments||user friendly||desktop program||en- crypted||open source|
|TextSecure||0.1 - 0.5 million|
|Kontalk||10.000 - 50.000|
|ChatSecure||0.1 - 0.5 million|
I use TextSecure for over a year now. It is a stable app, with lots or settings and a team behind, who knows what they are doing. They are a featured App of the guardian project and exist for four years now. The App is an all-rounder, and works for SMS as well as internet communication. They support group chat and attachments, I couldn’t find anything I would miss compared to WhatsApp except of the profile pictures (they use the ones that are stored on your phone), but that is acutally good, because it shows how important privacy is to them. The app encrypts everything, there is no normal and encrypted chat. Encrypted is normal. I think this major update will give the App a boost in users. The App is right now only available for Android, but a version for iOS should come within the next months (At least they say so). For a full list of features take a look at this post.
As you can see SureSpot got a lot of search queries since Facebook bought WhatsApp. This App does not feel that smooth, when starting the first time, but seems to be rather powerful. SureSpot wants even less data from you than TextSecure. They need to skim your contacts to find friend, in sureSpot you have to send requests to friends, similar like you would do in msn, Skype or ICQ. This is on one hand really nice, because you don’t have to fear, that they will store data of you, but on the other hand, it takes some time to find all friends. Other than that, SureSpot also has an encrypted local storage and supports audio messages. Once again it was not possible for me to take screenshots in the app.
Edit 30th of October: The app still hasen’t managed to get any more users, and the development speed has decreased a lot since March, I think kontalk won’t be interesting in the future anymore.
Kontalk is a very nice little app. It is open source AND user friendly. Right now they work with a proprietary protocol, but soon they will switch to XMPP, which will help to connect this app to other programs, so that it will be possible to chat from your phone to a desktop environment. They are also trying to implement an iOS version. The servers used are decentralized and everybody can set up his/her own server. They are managed through a web of trust system. All messages are encrypted and attachments embed very well (as is WhatsApp). A group feature is sadly still missing. They also have problems, getting users, which is critical for the success of a messenger app.
ChatSecure is ambitious program, which tries probably a bit too hard to implement as many features as possible without talking care of a clean, consistent UI. It is very powerful and uses only open standards, which makes it possible to use existing server structures and chats to other programs like pidgin for the desktop. It is for people, who know what they are doing and don’t care about the UI, not for the average mobile phone user. Sadly it also does not support group chat, but it has almost anything else you could want. This app is also featured by the guardian project, which is really worth a visit , if you are concerned about your privacy.
Those are of course only very few of all the possible messenger apps out there. There are many more with a good encryption, but are not open source. I tried to get a list of interesting open source projects. For further reading I would highly recommend an article by Joshua Lund. He covers the apps with a lot more detail and also lists more alternatives.