If you’re looking for a way to keep your conversations over text private, it’s crucial to choose your messaging app carefully. Not all of them are end-to-end encrypted (E2EE), and others might have security holes that compromise your privacy.
Simply put, E2EE means that only you (the sender) and your recipient can see the contents of your messages. This — most importantly — excludes any third parties, like your mobile carrier, internet service provider (ISP), and phone manufacturer. Some users may want this extra layer of protection to help prevent any outside snooping from the government and other organizations that may try to use your private conversations against you.
All of the apps listed here are free and offer E2EE, so you can worry less about your privacy. Let’s get into it.
Signal is one of the most well-known private messaging apps and is my personal go-to. It offers a simple, aesthetically pleasing interface that makes it easy to use as a replacement for your device’s default messaging app. Signal also describes itself as an “independent nonprofit company” that contains no ads or trackers within the app. Messages as well as voice and video calls are E2EE on Signal.
A note: in Android, you can also arrange to use Signal for less secure SMS / MMS messages, but the only way you can get full protection in Signal is if both users at either end are using the app. (You don’t have to worry about this if you’re an iPhone user, though, since you can’t change your default SMS app.)
Telegram is another great secure messaging app. It provides server-client encryption for group and private chats, and you also can send messages with E2EE by using Telegram’s Secret Chats feature. This not only prevents someone from forwarding your messages but also allows you to send self-destructing messages as well, which disappear after a specific period of time. If you delete your message in a secret chat, Telegram will also delete it on your recipient’s device.
While Telegram recently rolled out a paid tier that offers faster downloads and larger file uploads, the free version of the app still has a ton of great features. (Oh, and Telegram has a bunch of rad stickers you can use to embellish your messages.)
Wickr Me is yet another app with a parent company that may make it seem off-putting. Amazon Web Services purchased Wickr Me last year, but the service is still a solid messaging app that should keep your conversations secure. While Wickr Me is geared more toward business professionals using the app to communicate with their colleagues, this doesn’t mean a typical user can’t use it. The free version of the app allows for encrypted personal and group messaging, audio and video calling, and file sharing. It also lets you set timers for disappearing messages.
Wire is a stripped-down messaging app with a straightforward interface that does exactly what you need it to do: send E2EE messages and make E2EE voice and video calls. There are some paid premium options as well, but those plans are best suited for businesses looking for a secure collaboration app.
With Viber, you can expect a full-featured messaging experience, complete with everything you’d find on a modern messaging app, like stickers, GIFs, and message reactions. It also functions a bit like Telegram in that you can explore and join different channels to stay up to date on the topics you’re interested in. Although it supports E2EE for calls and messages, it is a bit more cluttered than some of the other apps here — you might see ads and channel recommendations while using it.
What’s interesting about Skred is that you don’t need a phone number or email to sign up. Skred also doesn’t use your phone’s contacts to detect whether any of your friends use the app. You can only invite people to the app by having them scan a QR code from your app while in person or by sending them the code through another messaging service. Skred supports E2EE messaging as well as voice and video calls.