Apps

6 secure messaging apps for your peace of mind

They all have end-to-end encryption by default

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The messaging apps we use every day should be private and secure. After all, personal messages reveal a lot about us. However, the recent WhatsApp debacle showed us that even the best messaging apps can succumb to sketchy practices.

A lot of companies these days advertise their messaging apps as “secure” but fail to live up to that promise. By default, users on the market for secure messaging apps should look if the app promises end-to-end encryption (E2E) for messages.

In simplest terms, end-to-end encryption means your messages are encrypted on the device before they get sent to servers. Encrypted here means turning your messages into random characters that only you and the person you’re sending the message to can properly read with a shared key. Think of encryption as sending secret letters with garbled characters to someone where the garbled characters can only be read with a guide.

With end-to-end encryption, you can be confident that no third parties will be able to read your messages. Only you and the person you are sending the message to  can read the encrypted message. This is important in this day and age especially when malicious hackers companies and even governments are out to get your message for different reasons such as blackmailing, profiteering, and surveillance.

So, here are the five best secure messaging apps that you can use every day with E2E enabled by default.

1. Signal: the up-and-coming alternative to WhatsApp

If you’re after the best of the best, then Signal is the one to get. This messaging app’s popularity skyrocketed as a result of the WhatsApp debacle. Suffice to say, the app continues to attract more users wary of the policy change in WhatsApp.

One major draw of Signal is its simple and intuitive interface. It works just like any other messaging app on the market. If your contact uses Signal, you can initiate a chat or a call relayed through secure servers.  As for the chat features, you get file and image sharing, audio clips, stickers, GIFs, and reactions. You can even set your messages to disappear after a period of time.

Group calls and chats work the same as you expect from other competing messaging apps.

Signal encrypts messages using its own open-source encryption protocol which has been touted as one of the most secure in the market. The whole app is also open-source so anyone can view and scrutinize the code of the app.

If there’s one major disadvantage to Signal, it would be the lack of users and features as compared to other popular messaging apps. As a consolation though, it counts influential figures such as Elon Musk and Edward Snowden among those who use it.

Another disadvantage for some users is that the app requires a phone number to register. It may not sound like a big deal, but it is a complete put-off for users who are concerned about their privacy. Luckily, developers have already confirmed that it is working on alternative ways for user registration.

The app is available for Android and iOS. For the best experience, you can also install Signal for Desktop which lets you send messages even without your smartphone nearby.

2. Wire: made in Switzerland

Wire may not exactly ring a bell to most, but it is one of the up-and-coming secure messaging apps in the market. Like Signal, it encrypts all messages by default. Originating from Switzerland, Wire users are covered by stricter European laws so you have that extra peace of mind.

The app also touts a simple and modern interface that makes it stand out in the crowd. Like other messaging apps in the market, it offers an easy way to chat with your friends or family members. It also supports image and file sharing, audio clips, GIFs, and message reactions. It even does secure voice and video calls.

Everything in the app is also open-source, just like Signal.

The app also offers additional features for businesses and organizations. These include secure collaboration features such as conferencing. Of course, those extra niceties come at different tiers and prices — Wire Pro and Wire Enterprise. As a side note, you can easily switch between personal and work accounts on the app.

Wire is available to download for Android and iOS. It also offers a web login for desktop users.

3. Wickr Me: best for businesses

Wickr Me works exactly like Wire, catering to both individuals and businesses. However, the app has three versions: the regular Wickr Me, a Wickr Pro version, and the enterprise-focused Wickr Enterprise. For most users, however, the regular Wickr Me is more than enough for their secure messaging needs.

By default, the regular Wickr Me features individual and group messaging for up to 10 people. You don’t need a phone number or an email address to register. In terms of interactivity, the app allows sending of files, images, and voice clips in a conversation. You can even set your messages and files to automatically delete themselves after a set amount of time.

The downside is that it lacks some features that are standard in other messaging apps. For example, it doesn’t have support for GIFs, message reactions, and replies. The biggest downside, however, is that you can only do audio or video call up to one person at a time on the regular Wickr Me.

Wickr Me shines the best when it comes to business use cases. Wickr Pro and Wickr Enterprise bump up the limit of group chat participants to 500 people and allows for group audio and video calls. These versions also gain broadcasting and screen sharing features. Wickr Enterprise even allows for self-hosting and full customization for big businesses.

All the versions of Wickr Me are open-source. Android users may get it on the Google Play Store while iOS users on the Apple App Store. There are also desktop apps available for Windows, macOS, and Linux users.

4. Threema: that one-time fee is worth it

Threema may put you off with its one-time cost of US$ 2.99, but that price is worth it since you’re looking at one of the most versatile and secure messaging apps in the world. It even boasts itself as being more secure than Signal.

The app doesn’t require phone numbers for registration. Instead, you are given a random ID upon signing up. From here, you can choose to optionally link your phone number or email address. Since it complies with strict European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws, you are guaranteed additional protection for your messaging data. Not to mention, the whole app is also open-source.

There is also a plethora of features to explore on the app, including unique ones that can’t be found in others. It supports text and voice messaging as a standard. You can also create groups though you can’t initiate a group call at the moment. Sending media, files, and location is supported too. On top of it all, you get a handy polling feature and text formatting.

Like most on this list, Threema struggles in terms of total users. It doesn’t help that the app requires a one-time fee to use it, putting off potential users. Despite this one-time fee though, the app enjoys high rankings on both Android and iOS platforms.

You can get the app on Android and iOS. Desktop users may also access Threema via this web app.

5. iMessage: for Apple users only

Into the Apple ecosystem? You will be glad that Apple offers its own secure messaging app for users — the ever-popular iMessage. Even though it has a few downsides of its own, the Apple-exclusive messaging app is more feature-rich than ever.

Its rich set of features has made it one of the top choices for a secure messaging app. Like its competitors, it boasts secure text and voice messaging. Users have the ability to send media files too. Support for message reactions is here too, along with the ability to do inline replies. Plus, you get plenty of integrations with third-party apps that support iMessage.

Memojis and animojis are here to spruce up the messaging experience too. The app ties nicely into the whole Apple ecosystem, taking advantage of exclusive features such as iCloud backup which is godsent for iPhone users who regularly upgrade their devices.

Of course, the biggest drawback to iMessage is its limited availability. You cannot get iMessage on other non-Apple devices, and there is no indication that this will change in the future. Third-party solutions exist to remedy this but be warned that they are not officially recognized by Apple.

Another major downside is its closed-source nature. That means that independent security auditors can’t view and verify if iMessage is as secure as Apple would like its users to think.

Since this is Apple-exclusive, you can only get this on iOS and macOS devices. There is no need to install anything since the app is already integrated into the default messaging app.

Telegram: use at your own risk

The fallout of the whole WhatsApp debacle is a surge in the use of Telegram, a widely-popular messaging app that touts secure messaging for all. However, there is a big if to this premise. Telegram actually doesn’t use end-to-end encryption by default unless a user opts to do so via the “Secret Chats” feature.

Granted, users enjoy better features when using this as compared to others on this list. Most of these features, however, are only available to chats not using end-to-end encryption. Worse, end-to-end encrypted chats are limited to one person, unlike the others which allow for group messages.

As a tiny consolation though, voice and video calls are end-to-end encrypted by default. This doesn’t erase the fact that Telegram isn’t as secure as the company claims it to be, so use it at your own risk. If you really have to use it though, you will need to start a new message while selecting the secret chat feature.

Encryption is the key

In this day and age, it’s better to be safe than sorry. This doesn’t only apply to physical situations (especially at a time of pandemic), but also to digital scenarios such as communicating with others. Malicious hackers, rogue agencies, and even ordinary tech companies have gotten more sophisticated in acquiring personal data — simple safeguards just won’t work anymore.

In looking for a secure messaging app, you should always check if it offers end-to-end encryption by default. Encryption literally is the key to ensuring that your messages remain safe between you and your intended recipients.

Luckily, the market nowadays is moving towards enabling end-to-end encryption by default. Facebook, for example, has promised to enable it across all of its messaging apps in the future. Until then, you should be wary of using messaging apps and use common sense in giving out personal information.

Apps

Spotify will now let you download music on your desktop

You can finally play songs while working offline

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One of the biggest updates to arrives for premium members on Spotify is the ability to download music on your laptop or computer. While this has always been a must-have feature on mobile phones, it wasn’t extended to a full-fledged PC.

Music streaming has taken over the world, and Spotify is leading the market. Streaming lets you listen to anything within a tap, so you never have to download songs via pirated sites or torrents. But the biggest problem with Spotify was — you can’t download songs for offline playback on your computer.

The hurdle is now gone, and you’ll never have to think of piracy or a legal alternative anytime soon. Just fire up Spotify’s free desktop app, and you’re good to go. Similar to the mobile UI, you can choose to keep an album or playlist offline. It’ll download all the tracks and be ready for you whenever you need them.

While this may seem like a minor addition that should’ve been implemented long ago, it technically isn’t. Only the desktop app supports it, and you can’t access it via the website player.

Spotify redesign

Spotify is also rolling out a redesign for the web and desktop app that looks similar to the mobile app. The move was aimed to improve the app’s navigation, add new features, and make the experience uniform across platforms or devices.

The old search bar is now relocated and toned down visually and sits in the left menu section. The “Made For You,” “Daily Mix,” and more playlists now sit within your library section. The Recently Played tab showed playback history up to three months ago.

If you’re a playlist fanatic, there’s now an option to add a description, upload your own images, and drag-drop apps within existing playlists. The new update is aimed at improving your discoverability, in turn offering more opportunities to curators. The hybrid manul-AI setup gets perfectly tuned to understand your taste and offer the most relevant curations.

Read Also: Spotify launches Car Thing, a voice-controlled music player for cars

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Apps

Amazon Music gets a Car Mode, but don’t use it while driving

Oh the irony!

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Amazon Music
Image by Why Kei

Amazon Music has received a new feature called the Car Mode, and it tweaks the interface with larger buttons, text, and quicker access to Alexa assistant. It’ll automatically get triggered when your phone is connected to the car’s Bluetooth.

You can also customize the actions that should be displayed on the app’s screen in Car Mode. To disable Car Mode, you can tap on the icon on the top-left corner of the screen. If you have an older car without Bluetooth, Car Mode can also be enabled in settings within the Amazon Music mobile app. Amazon said that it also features convenient swipe functionality to skip tracks and return to the presets.

Ironically, the web page describing the new feature says that users shouldn’t operate the phone while driving. So, what’s the use of a dedicated vehicle mode if you’re not supposed to use it while driving?

If that wasn’t enough, there’s another tip from Amazon — “Interacting with the Amazon Music app while driving is dangerous and may result in serious injury, death, or property damage.”

The new addition aims to make it easier for a user to navigate the UI while driving. A locked phone without any dedicated driving-centric features makes it difficult for the driver even to skip a song. Amazon’s Car Mode aims to bridge this gap. Don’t start texting while driving, but go through your playlist seamlessly.

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Apps

Singpass app now available on Huawei AppGallery

Easier access for Huawei users

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Singpass

Huawei continues to beef up the AppGallery’s library of apps. One of the latest additions is Singpass.

Singpass is an app that gives Singapore residents easy access to over 1,400 everyday services from more than 340 government agencies and private organizations. These include viewing their Central Provident Fund (CPF), filing taxes with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), accessing bank accounts and renewing insurance policies — with a quick scan and tap on their smartphones. Users do not have to
enter their passwords.

Singpass was developed by the Government Technology Agency or GovTech. It was launched in 2003 to facilitate convenient digital transactions with Singapore government agencies.

Since then, the service has been further enhanced to include an improved user interface, mobile features and stronger security capabilities. Its latest features include Singpass Face Verification, Digital IC and digital signing.

The launch of the Singpass app on AppGallery offers local users of Huawei devices a third 2FA method when accessing services, in addition to the SMS One-Time Password (OTP) and Singpass Face Verification 2FA modes. As of March 2021, the Singpass app has garnered over 2.5 million users, with over 70 percent of all Singpass transactions conducted through the app.

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