"Where Signal Absolutely Scores Above WhatsApp Is...": Co-Founder To NDTV

In other words, if your messages get hacked, the hacker only sees garbled alpha-numeric strings. WhatsApp too offers encryption but, for now, also tracks some data, such as IP addresses.

I think where Signal absolutely scores above WhatsApp is in the privacy category, said Brian Acton.

New Delhi:

Signal, the secure messaging service rapidly emerging as an alternative to WhatsApp, "absolutely scores over" the Facebook-owned platform in the battle to ensure the privacy of user data, co-founder Brian Acton told NDTV on Tuesday.

Mr Acton, who helped create both products, said that apart from features like 'disappearing messages' (which WhatsApp also offers) Signal has total encryption - this includes metadata, which is data that helps servers identify, among other things, the place, time and date of messages.

In other words, if your messages get hacked, the hacker only sees garbled alpha-numeric strings. WhatsApp too offers encryption but, for now, also tracks some data, such as IP addresses.

"I think where Signal absolutely scores above WhatsApp is in the privacy category. You see it in the 'privacy label' of the app... you see it in how we build the product. We have privacy features like 'disappearing messages' (and also) everything is encrypted, including your metadata," he said.

"I think it comes through pretty easily that it is privacy first (for Signal) and that is why people are (saying) - 'should I use Signal or should I use WhatsApp or something else," he added.

Concerns over data privacy - never far from the surface - have been red-flagged once more in recent weeks, with WhatsApp (now owned by Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook, which is facing its own questions over data privacy) revising its policies to say data will be shared with its parent company.

WhatsApp has issued a statement on this matter, clarifying that this will not affect privacy of data. Nevertheless, the debate has triggered concern in India, with WhatsApp users contemplating what was previously unthinkable - leaving the platform.

"... (it is) a slippery slope, you know. What data do I collect... what do I not... and then people are completely surprised, 'oh... when I opted in I didn't realise I was giving you this information...'. So if you start from a position of not having any information (about the user) you're automatically protecting people's privacy," Mr Acton explained.

Concerns have also been raised over the sharing of encrypted data with authorities, particularly since Delhi Police last year flagged two instances of violent goons organising themselves on WhatsApp - the attack on students and teachers in JNU and clashes over the citizenship law.

WhatsApp says it is "prepared to carefully review, validate and respond to law enforcement requests based on applicable law and policy".

Signal, whose encryption presents authorities with a challenge when monitoring social media and messaging platforms for criminals or criminal activity, is firmer on this topic, with Mr Acton acknowledging that while law enforcement is important, it is also important "to protect citizens from things like abuse of power".

The app is also considering, Mr Acton said, adding an additional layer of privacy by linking accounts to user IDs rather than phone numbers. "... they give you another layer of privacy... is one of the features most frequently requested... so we will see if we build it".