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There are many alternatives to iMessage and most of them are completely cross-platform. If you want to securely communicate with your Windows and Android-using friends, here are your top picks — and the limitations of each one.
Each app below provides text, voice, and video messaging and file sending and receiving. In addition, all the apps mentioned should offer at least some end-to-end encryption.
We strongly recommend that you use this list as a starting platform and do your research on each messaging app. There are pros and cons to each, and what may work for one person may not work for another.
It is also important to remember that all platforms, no matter how secure they claim to be, are prone to attack. Therefore, you should avoid sharing personal information, such as your social security number or credit card numbers, with each app.
And remember: if you wouldn’t say or do something in public, it’s wise not to send it over the internet either. Even encrypted.
iMessage and FaceTime
Since you’re probably already in the Apple ecosystem, let’s recap what iMessage can and can’t do for you.
For sending text, files, video clips, audio clips and more to Apple users, iMessage is an excellent choice. It offers end-to-end encryption, syncs across your iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch, and there’s no need to download and create a new account.
However, there is a significant limitation: it only works with other Apple users using the iMessage system. So while you can message those on Android with your iPhone, it won’t be via iMessage.
Instead, they are sent via SMS, which means that your messages, files and pictures are not encrypted. So if you see your messages being sent as green bubbles instead of blue, you know your messages are not being sent securely.
FaceTime is Apple’s audio and video messaging app, which also uses end-to-end encryption. Unlike iMessage, you can FaceTime with people who don’t use an Apple device.
This feature, called FaceTime Links, was introduced in iOS 15. Anyone with access to a browser can join a FaceTime call.
Signal has made a name for itself as the privacy-focused messaging platform. It is available on iOS, Android, Windows, Mac and Linux platforms.
Signal is a non-profit organization and is not owned by a tech giant like WhatsApp. In theory, this means Signal should have less leverage from larger platforms.
Signal requires users to provide a phone number, which is not ideal in many cases. However, phone numbers are personally identifiable and can often be used to look up a person’s home address, location, and more.
While it’s possible to set up Signal with a Google Voice number, it’s still not a completely anonymous way to communicate with others.
With an active user base of over two billion people, WhatsApp is a popular choice for a cross-platform messaging app. It is available on iOS and Android and can be used on Windows and macOS if your smartphone is nearby.
WhatsApp offers end-to-end encryption, which prevents malicious actors from easily accessing conversations you’ve had. In addition, conversations stored in the cloud are encrypted.
Like most messaging apps, WhatsApp won’t notify you if the person you’re messaging has taken a screenshot of your conversation. So it’s always wise to remember that if you don’t want someone to share a screenshot of something you’ve sent, you shouldn’t send it in the first place.
However, there are times when WhatsApp is not the most secure. For example, if you send a business account, WhatsApp will be able to access your conversations, which may not be immediately apparent to the user.
In addition, WhatsApp requires users to associate a phone number with their account, and the number is visible to anyone you connect with. For this reason, we advise minors not to use WhatsApp.
Telegram is another app known for promising a ton of security features to users. It can be used on most devices including Mac, Windows, iOS, Android and Linux. It allows users to use usernames, making it the preferred choice for those who don’t want to disclose their phone numbers.
However, there are a few things to be concerned about. Telegram cannot encrypt group messages end-to-end. Also, messages are not encrypted by default. When messages are encrypted, they cannot be opened by multiple devices.
Telegram is similar to WhatsApp, but does not require a phone number. While it’s not the most secure out there, the platform’s ease of use and wide availability make it a good choice.