Friday, 21 February 2014

Telegram verses Whatsapp

The Facebook takeover of Whatsapp seems to have caused quite a stir. Lots of people are trying out an alternative chat app called Telegram with no links to big business - unless it happens to be a major Russian competitor to Facebook.

I decided to take it for a run but immediately noticed some strange anomalies. Telegram seems to check your contacts list and informs you when contacts join up. I am quite curious how they do that. The first message I got informed me that Irfan Skiljan had joined. So I decided to send him a message. I then got to see a mobile number (I don't have Irfan's mobile number, only an email address). But the mobile number is in Uzbekistan and I'm pretty sure Irfan is not there.
However this user sent me his screen back and I also note that my own mobile number is included on his screen... whoever this person may be in Uzbekistan. (I just got a message back from Irfan saying it certainly isn't him.)

Then I was informed that "Josine" had joined. I do have one Josine in my contacts, but without a mobile number either. So this could be just any Josine who happens to have joined up. It looks to me like Telegram is very generous providing my information to total strangers - and theirs to me.

Then an acquaintance called Femke joined. My knowledge of her, her unusual name and her social media awareness made me assume it was the same person I knew. That was indeed the case. But again, Telegram immediately showed me her mobile number, which I didn't have and which isn't to be found on Google+.

I decided to do a bit of reading and discovered there do seem to be some doubts also about the security of Telegram. It keeps everything in the cloud, but how well protected is its cloud? And its encryption seems the work of amateurs. Check out this fascinating blog about encryption.

So my conclusion remains that Telegram matches potential contacts only on the basis of a name in the contact list and then blithly passes on the mobile phone number when that may not be a good idea. E.g. in the case of a policeman, doctor etc.

A Techcrunch piece about Telegram.
PCMWeb over Telegram (in Dutch)

Hemlis (when it's ready)


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  2. Hi Martin, I see you have doubts about the security of Telegram's encryption and their choice of saving those encrypted messages in the cloud.
    First of all. there are two kinds of chats in Telegram. the so called Secret chat and ordinary chat. One difference between secret and ordinary chats in Telegram is that secret chats are not stored in the cloud. This means you can only access messages in a secret chat on the device of origin.

    And the russion who invested in Telegram offers 200k in BTC for the first person to crack their security.

  3. @Max

    1) You do not need to know the contents of the chat to build a social graph based on metadata. Encryption is irrelevant in this case. That's exactly what NSA is doing and getting blamed for in the Verizon case.
    2) FSB is not a tad better than NSA. I am pretty sure they are worse.

    @Martin, Durov has been forced to leave some time ago, he is not related to them anymore.

  4. Contactlist problem was a temporary bug. You should check twitter they are solving problems quick.

  5. "Viber" is also a good alternative

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  7. One last difference among mystery and everyday chats in Telegram 2017 is that secret chats are not stored in our cloud. this means you may handiest get right of entry to messages in a mystery chat on their device of starting place.