Chatting online isn’t anything new, but the pandemic has fueled the use of video calling and messaging apps. As social distancing began around the country, these apps saw a surge in popularity. Tap or click here to find out which browser is best for your privacy.
But just because something is popular, doesn’t mean it is safe. Mozilla conducted research into the 21 most-used video calling and messaging apps, and three sparked some concern. The apps are dangerous for various reasons, enough so to be added to the *Privacy Not Included list.
There are also two standouts that take privacy and user data seriously. They truly take security to the next level. Here are the three apps that Mozilla found to be seriously lacking in privacy along with a couple of apps that are safe.
Facebook’s privacy problem in Messenger
It might come as no surprise that Facebook Messenger is included in the latest privacy report from Mozilla. The app is available for multiple platforms and is mainly used for text messaging and video calling.
The social media giant has a spotty history when it comes to user privacy, and that seemingly filters to Facebook Messenger. The Privacy Not Included report states that Facebook “hired contractors to read and transcribe audio messages” and the personal data of over 500 million Facebook users were leaked earlier this year.
The company is also capable of knowing who you chat with and when you chat and can use that data for targeted advertising. In the Messenger Kids app, there isn’t advertising, but it still collects usage data.
WeChat is used extensively in Asia and has recently been making its way to the U.S. But as Mozilla points out, there are several privacy and security issues that warranted its inclusion in the Privacy Not Included report.
The free app is developed by Tencent and has over a billion users. But the biggest threat to privacy is the lack of end-to-end encryption and millions of private chat logs have been leaked in the past.
Mozilla explains that the app collects data like your name, mobile phone number, gender and IP address. It can hand these details over to “government, public, regulatory, judicial and law enforcement bodies.” It also shares your data with other TenCent companies and third-party providers.
The multi-person video chat app has had a short-lived run in various app stores. Launched early last year, creator Epic Games announced that it will be removed for use in October 2021. The app allowed up to eight people to chat over video in a “room” and users can drop into “rooms” as much as they like.
It received the Privacy Not Included rating as testing revealed that weak passwords to user accounts can be used. The website also notes that Houseparty doesn’t sell your personal information but shares it with third-party companies.
Mozilla said there are few privacy protections from strangers joining your room. While there is a setting that can limit who joins, anybody else in the room can remove it or allow others to join.
Two apps that stood out for privacy
We have recommended the messaging app Threema before, and for good reason. As the latest *Privacy Not Included report states, the app uses end-to-end encryption, you can use it without an email address or phone number, and it doesn’t collect user data.
It costs $3.99, but there have been no recorded security breaches, and it doesn’t use targeted advertising.
According to Mozilla, the app uses open-source end-to-end encryption and doesn’t track or sell your details. It doesn’t collect biometric or social data, and you don’t need an email address to sign up. It also has user-friendly privacy information and meets Mozilla’s Minimum-Security Standards.