(Pocket-lint) - Perhaps more so now than at any point in history, consumers are becoming aware of their own online privacy, and free communication that can't be monitored. Especially given recent revelations about how some social networks manage (read: mis-manage) your personal data. Thankfully there are tools that allow you to stay in touch with friends, family and contacts, without risk of your messages being intercepted or read by a third party.
In the past, using a secure messaging service usually meant compromise on features, fun and convenience. But it doesn't have to be that way. One app, in particular, has been growing in popularity perhaps more than others: Telegram. Likely because when it comes to chatting functions and privacy, it's proving you can indeed have your cake and eat it too.
What is Telegram?
- Cross-platform, fast messenger
Telegram is a secure, convenient messaging app that's cross-platform, meaning it works on all of your devices. Its instant-sync feature means that chats are always up to date on all of your devices at once.
While you do use your phone number to initially set up an account, you're not limited to having it on one phone. You can have it running on multiple devices at the same time without it signing out of any others.
Using a phone number to set up also means it's easy for other people to contact you if they have the app. There's no learning any new PIN codes, email addresses or account handles. If they have your number in their contacts list, they'll be able to message you, wherever you are and whatever device you happen to be using at the time.
What platforms can you use it on?
- Android/iOS apps for smartphones
- Available on Huawei App Gallery
- Desktop version for Mac/Windows/Linux
- Web browser version too
One of the great things about Telegram is that it's available on pretty much every popular operating system, whether that be a Mac, Windows or Linux computer, an iOS or Android-powered smartphone or even a Huawei phone.
If you're an iPad or iPhone user you can download the app from the App Store. For Android devices, there's an app on the Play Store, plus there's Telegram X which has a slightly different interface but does all the same things.
You can download the app direct to your PC or Mac by heading to Telegram's download page.
If you're using a Chromebook, you can still make use of it either by heading to the web browser version of the chat tool or - if your Chromebook supports it - downloading the Android app from the Play Store. The browser option is obviously also available to anyone who wants to use it but doesn't want to install it on their computer.
Is it any good? (What can you do with it?)
- Sticker packs (animated and still)
- No file size limits
- Telegram groups up to 200,000 in size
- Customise the look
- Fast/instant sync across devices
It's not as popular or wide-spread as apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp (also Facebook), but it has a lot of features that make it fun and easy to use. It's not just a boring secure text messenger.
Like any good messenger app, you can have individual or group chats, with those group chats good for up to 200,000 members. Plus, you're free to send and receive files, images and data without any limits on the size or number of those. You can make voice calls or video calls too, so it's truly a fully-featured app.
One of the fun parts of the app is its collection of downloadable sticker packs. Some are animated, others still, but they automatically pop up when you use an emoji so that - if you want to - you can replace those yellow, static faces with fun animations. With tie-ins with the likes of Star Wars, Avengers, Wizarding World and other popular characters, there's no shortage of ways to express emotion.
It's customisable too, so you can choose what colours and gradients you want to use in your chats, from changing the background shade to adjusting the colour of the speech bubbles within chats.
Its best feature is probably how quick and reliable it is. New messages appear on all your devices at once, and any updates are virtually instant, so if you have to switch from phone to desktop (or the other way around) it's easy and convenient to do.
Recent updates have seen the app add features like having multiple pinned messages within chats, which might be useful in big group chats, or if you're sharing a shopping list with your partner/housemate. Live locations can be set up to alert when you're nearby a friend if you're planning to meet up and sending multiple music files automatically creates a short playlist.
How secure is it?
- 256-bit AES encryption
- Secure key exchange
- Don't use 'People Nearby'
Very. In fact, that's the reason so many people have been drawn to it in recent times. According to its own FAQ page, it's more secure as standard than WhatsApp or Line. Whether you're chatting in individual or group chats and uses two layers of secure encryption.
Server-client encryption is used to encrypt and protect your messages in the cloud, while Secret Chats use end-to-end client-client encryption between two people, on two devices and don't store the messages in the cloud at all.
It's worth noting, those Secret Chats only appear on the devices the chat was started on, so you can't read or respond to those conversations on desktop/tablet or anywhere else you're logged in.
None of your data - whether they be messages, media or shared files - can be deciphered when intercepted by your internet service provider, or owners of Wi-Fi routers/networks you might be using at the time.
Telegram is so confident in its security that it has a competition running whereby anyone who wants to can try to decipher messages and data. If they manage it, they get $300,000.
What's more, Telegram has a bounty system in place where users who identify security areas that need improving are rewarded between $100 and $100,000 if their suggestions are then implemented.
Now, there is one little hole in Telegram's armor and it's a feature called 'People Nearby'. It's off by default, but if you switch it on it lets Telegram users nearby see you and message you.
People with the wrong motives and the right skills could find your precise location or just use it to target you with scams as noted by researcher Ahmed Hassan. So to stay extra secure, don't use that feature.
How much does it cost to use?
- Free to download
- Premium tier is $4.99/£4.99/€5.49
You can get a pretty full experience of all Telegram's best features without paying a penny and - minus some 'minimally designed sponsored messages' in big group chats - you won't see any ads in the app either.
Its money initially came from a tech tycoon called Pavel Durov, and - for years - it ran as an ad-free service with no free to users. However, in 2022 it rolled out a 'Premium Tier'.
This is very much geared towards delivering extra value and new features to subscribers. You can read more about those features here, but to get them you pay $4.99/£4.99/€5.49 per month.
What's the takeaway? (TL;DR)
The short version to all of this is that Telegram is convenient, fun, quick and secure. Plus, the fact the company has no interest in making money from your personal data or selling you ads means you're not dealing with a company whose only purpose is to make money from your data (unlike most other third-party messenger app providers).
You might even be surprised to see how many friends you already have on there, the number of users is growing all the time.