Telegram vs. WhatsApp: Which Messaging App Should You Use?

WhatsApp and Telegram are heavy-hitting competitors in the pro-privacy instant messaging space, but which is best for your communication needs?
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When it comes to secure, private instant messaging, two heavy-hitting platforms take center stage – Telegram and WhatsApp. Both programs are multi-platform messaging systems that allow users to send text messages and distribute files and media globally with a heavy focus on user privacy and security.

With security breaches and cyberattacks happening more and more frequently, many people are wondering how they can anonymously browse online and secure private communications for day-to-day conversations and sensitive content. These pro-privacy messaging platforms may be an answer to those concerns.

Secure messaging platforms keep your conversations and content hidden from the government and advertisements, but which encrypted messaging platform is best? Of course, individual needs should be taken into consideration when determining which messaging app to use, but we break down two private messaging apps, Telegram and WhatsApp, below.

In this article
What’s the difference between Telegram and WhatsApp?
Does Telegram or WhatsApp collect your data?
Telegram vs. WhatsApp features
WhatsApp vs. Telegram FAQs
Bottom line

What’s the difference between Telegram and WhatsApp?

Telegram and WhatsApp appear similar at first glance. The two messaging apps both claim to be privacy-promoting instant messaging apps that allow you to send information, media, and files anywhere at any time.

They’re reliable forms of communication for people who want to communicate globally on a variety of devices. Both Telegram and WhatsApp offer a self-destruction option (messages and photos automatically disappear after a specified amount of time) and two-factor authentication.

But upon closer inspection, the two apps offer different messaging features, support different devices, and use different levels of encryption, meaning there are varying levels of privacy and security for users. Here’s a quick guide to the main similarities and differences.

Telegram vs. WhatsApp security compared

Feature Telegram WhatsApp
Company headquarters British Virgin Islands and Dubai, United Arab Emirates Menlo Park, California, United States (Meta)
End-to-end encryption Yes, when Secret Chat is enabled
Self-destructing messages
Hide your phone number
Two-factor authentication
Open-source code
Chat history cloud storage Optional
Screen lock
App availability Android, iOS (iPhone and iPad), Windows, macOS, Linux Android, iOS (iPhone and iPad), Windows, macOS

Does Telegram or WhatsApp collect your data?

The short answer is yes, they both collect some amount of data. When setting up any account, almost all apps require data collection in some form, and even though these are privacy-focused messaging apps, there is still some information collected.

If you want to maintain online anonymity or protect your online presence further, there are options. Try masking your email or hiding your IP address with a virtual private network (VPN). Some of the best VPN apps also come with ad and tracker blockers for extra security.

How does Telegram use your data?

Telegram collects your IP address, types of devices you use, and your activity on other Telegram apps, as well as profile changes (like changes to your username). This information may be stored for 12 months, according to Telegram’s privacy policy.

For an added layer of protection, you can use Telegram’s Secret Chat feature, which offers end-to-end encryption, un-forwardable messages, and disappearing messages. Secret Chats are not stored.

As a standard setting, Telegram doesn’t offer encryption on messages unless you enable Secret Chat. So unless you’re using Secret Chat exclusively, Telegram has access to all of your messages and sent files, in addition to the data it collects for your registration.

However, once Secret Chat is enabled, Telegram has no access to messages between you and other users.

How does WhatsApp use your data?

Meta is WhatsApp’s parent company, and the app has come under scrutiny since 2021 for updates to its privacy policies and whether it maintains user privacy and security.

Currently, WhatsApp does share certain categories of information with Meta Companies. Some of this may include (but is not limited to) account registration information like phone number, transaction data, mobile information, and IP addresses.

WhatsApp automatically collects user data that it says enhances customer experience like time, frequency, and duration of your usage, how you interact with WhatsApp services, location services, and cookies. However, messaging information like contact information or private messages between users is not shared.

Since conversations are automatically encrypted without changing any settings, WhatsApp doesn’t store data on its own servers, but messages are saved to your phone’s memory. In the case that a message isn’t opened or delivered, WhatsApp will keep that encrypted message on its server until the message is delivered or for 30 days.

Telegram vs. WhatsApp features

Both messaging platforms boast similarities in privacy and feature amenities like group chat capabilities and secret chats, as well as the ability to save messages and organize chats and files in folders. Let’s delve into the specifics.

Group chats

Communicating with family and friends all over the world on a fast, reliable network is a huge selling point for these instant messaging platforms. WhatsApp allows for group chats with up to 1,024 people, whereas Telegram allows a whopping 200,000 group members in one chat.

Secret chats

While WhatsApp messages are all automatically encrypted, it doesn’t currently support Secret Chat, but users are able to hide chats in the Archive feature of WhatsApp.

Telegram makes up for the lack of automatic encryption by allowing you to enable a Secret Chat mode where messages sent between users are encrypted.

Self-destructing messages

Ultimate privacy comes in the form of disappearing messages, a feature offered on both Telegram and WhatsApp. Telegram offers self-destructing messages while WhatsApp boasts disappearing messages. Both platforms have a customizable self-destruct timer, and when time is up, the messages disappear.

Online status

WhatsApp shows active users’ status in two ways: “online” and “last seen.” If someone on your contact list is connected to the internet and has WhatsApp open, their status is set to online. Last seen is the last time a contact used WhatsApp. Through WhatsApp’s privacy settings, users are able to control who can see these statuses.

Telegram shows users’ online activity based on these time parameters:

  • Recently: Between 1 second and 2 to 3 days
  • Last week: Between 2 to 3 days and 7 days
  • Last month: Between 6 to 7 days and one month
  • Long time ago: More than one month and the default status for blocked contacts

Users are able to choose who sees their online activity in the settings on the app.

Saved messages, files, and folders

Both messaging platforms now offer files and folders, making organizing and accessing chats quick and efficient. How the apps name and manage the folders, however, is slightly different.

Telegram offers its users the ability to save messages for future use. Instead of downloading content, users can save the message in the app itself.

With Telegram’s latest updates, users can now organize files into private or shared folders, allowing multiple users to access content in those shared folders. Shared folders use a unique link to allow users access to the folder and any chats therein.

Telegram also allows users to send media up to 1.5 GB, whereas WhatsApp’s size limit is much smaller (16 MB).

WhatsApp files and media can be saved directly to the user’s phone memory and offers organization for users by utilizing labels. Users can create labels with different names or colors and apply them not only to the entire chat but also to pertinent information within the chat.

WhatsApp allows users to transmit files and media up to 16 MB.

WhatsApp vs. Telegram FAQs


Does Telegram require a phone number?

When using the services of an app that requires an account, many require not only a phone number but an email address as well.

Just like WhatsApp, account registration for Telegram requires a phone number. However, users aren’t required to use their personal number to set up their Telegram account. Users who wish to keep their personal phone number private can use a temporary or virtual phone number to sign up.


Is Telegram safer than WhatsApp?

Telegram is a rising star in the popularity contest of secure-messaging apps, but it’s not perfect. If you’re using Secret Chat, ensuring all messages are end-to-end encrypted, Telegram is a safe option for a private messaging app.


Is Telegram a Russian app?

Telegram was created by Russian brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov, but the company now has its headquarters in Dubai. Though the brothers are Russian, Telegram claims no affiliation, legally or otherwise, with Russia. It’s worth noting Telegram is based in Dubai, which is not part of the Five Eyes alliance, a group of countries committed to sharing information about citizens’ online behaviors.


Can the government track Telegram?

At the time of publication, Telegram is safe from government snooping for a few reasons. First, messages sent in Secret Chat are end-to-end encrypted, and Telegram does not store these messages on its own servers. This means that unless the government has access to your device, it does not have access to your private messages or content within Telegram.

Messages sent across the platform without Secret Chat enabled, however, are stored on the Cloud network because Telegram is a cloud-based software. If you want to be able to access your content anywhere from any device, it must be uploaded somewhere. Hence, the Cloud.

When deciding whether to use Secret Chat for the end-to-end encryption benefits, you must also determine which is more important to you – the convenience of accessing content from any device or the security of encrypted messages only accessible through one device.

Bottom line

When it comes to online security and privacy, Telegram and WhatsApp are not always the same. Your data may be secure, but is it private?

Though owned by Meta, WhatsApp’s security is unmatched, offering end-to-end encryption on all communications. Alternatively, Telegram requires less personal data and offers larger group chat options and large file-sharing capabilities, but you must enable encrypted communication channels. These important differences must be weighed when determining which messaging service to use.

Online security is more than secure messaging apps. Learn more about improving your online privacy and security and decreasing your digital footprint.

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Author Details
Courtney Daybell brings over 15 years of experience in print journalism and holds a B.A. in Communications from Brigham Young University. Her focus has shifted to cyber security, where she specializes in topics such as identity theft protection, password managers, antivirus software, and more.