Telegram security and privacy tips

Facebook’s WhatsApp recently updated its privacy policy, causing many disgruntled users to switch to rival messengers, among them Telegram. Thanks largely to this exodus, Telegram added 25 million new users in just a few days, pushing its user base over the 500 million mark.

That makes this the perfect time to talk about Telegram’s security and privacy.

End-to-end encryption is not the default option in Telegram

The first thing to know about Telegram is that Cloud chats, as Telegram calls its standard chats, are not end-to-end encrypted. (Here’s why end-to-end encryption is important for privacy.)

In a nutshell, the absence of end-to-end encryption means Telegram has access not only to metadata (who you wrote to, when, how often, and so forth), as WhatsApp does, but also to the contents of standard chats with no end-to-end encryption. According to Telegram’s privacy policy at the time of this writing, the data is not used for advertising purposes. However, as we know from experience, policies can change.

How to enable end-to-end encryption for secret chats in Telegram

Telegram does have end-to-end encryption — you just need to enable it. Telegram calls chats with end-to-end encryption enabled Secret chats.

In secret chats, text messages, pictures, videos, and all other files are sent using end-to-end encryption. That means only you and the recipient have the decryption key, so Telegram cannot access the data.

Moreover, the contents of secret chats are not stored on Telegram’s servers. Because secret chats are saved only on the devices of chat participants, they cannot be accessed from another device — and they disappear when you log out of Telegram or delete the app.

Secret chats are available in Telegram’s iOS, Android, and macOS apps. The Web version and Windows app do not support secret chats; they cannot ensure secure storage of chats on the device.

How to create a secret chat in Telegram

Current versions of the Telegram apps do not make the secret chat feature easy to find.

To create a secret chat, you need to open the profile of your chat partner, tap or click the three-dot button (sometimes called More, sometimes not), and select Start Secret Chat.

How to enable end-to-end encryption in Telegram: Starting a secret chat

That opens a chat in which end-to-end encryption is applied to messages (a notification to that effect appears in the chat window at the start). You can also set the time after which messages will be deleted by tapping or clicking the clock icon in the message input box.

Set up a timer in Telegram's secret chats to delete messages automatically

Set up a timer in Telegram’s secret chats to delete messages automatically

Of course, the automatic deletion of messages doesn’t prevent your chat partner from taking screenshots, but if they do, you will be notified about it in the chat. The one exception is if the other person is using the macOS app; in that case you won’t get a notification.

Here’s another handy tip: Telegram allows multiple secret chats with the same person. Group chats cannot be secret, however, unlike in WhatsApp, which applies end-to-end encryption to all chats by default.

How to know if a chat is end-to-end encrypted: The padlock icon

Because Telegram chats

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