Since Facebook Owns WhatsApp, Here Are 5 Alternative Messaging Services

You shouldn’t feel forced to relinquish your messaging data to Facebook.


Facebook stunned the tech world last week when it scooped up the messaging application WhatsApp for $19 billion.

The deal was largely heralded as a win for both sides: Facebook gained a much-needed service it hasn’t yet delivered on, and the small startup cashed in big time. But the downside of the acquisition fell heavily on the shoulders of users—those 450 million people whose private data is now in the hands of Facebook.

If you’re a WhatsApp user who wants to break up with Facebook, or someone looking for a great new messaging application, we’ve put together a list of mobile messaging apps you should try.


Almost five million people signed up for Telegram after Facebook bought WhatsApp. As a messaging service, it is sleek and easy to use.

Telegram, which is built by a Berlin-based nonprofit, is cloud-based and heavily encrypted so users can use several devices to access their messages and documents including both mobile and desktop. Thecompany also claims Telegram is a free service that will remain so in the future, meaning no advertisements or subscription fees will ever be levied on customers.

Telegram is available on iOS and Android. Developers can access and implement the app’s API through Telegram’s open source code.


Snapchat’s sophisticated competitor Wickr brings government-strength security and encryption to your messages. Wickr lets you send self-destructing messages, documents, photos, videos and voice calls that disappear after a select amount of time.

Wickr is entirely anonymous, as the application doesn’t ask for any of your personal information. Wickr is also exceeds top secret and HIPAA compliance, so people in medical, law enforcement, and journalism fields can feel confident using Wickr for secure messaging knowing it can’t be traced or reproduced.

Wickr is available on iOS and Android.


Line is one of the most popular messaging services on the market for free voice and video calling.

The app is massively popular internationally, especially in Asia, and it finally entered the U.S. market earlier this year. Line is more than just a simple messaging application—it has branched out to offer in-app games and a variety of standalone apps like Line Camera and Line Tools. While the app is free, additional services like stickers and games provide revenue for the company. In the first quarter of 2013, Line made $17 million off sticker sales alone.

Line is available on iOSAndroid,Windows Phone, and Blackberry.


Kik is the world’s first messaging application with a built-in browser. The application boasts over 100 million users, a majority coming from North America and Western Europe.

Kik has over 30 HTML5 experiences built into the application for sharing pictures, videos and gaming, according to the company, and recently launched the in-app browser. Kik has also created open source tools to help developers build and optimize their websites for mobile.

Kik is available on iOSAndroidWindows Phone, and BlackBerry.


Tango, like Line, offers an all-inclusive social app with games, music, video, and voice and text messaging. The San Francisco-based company says the app has 150 million users.

Because of the additional features that extend beyond voice calling and messaging, users of more traditional messaging services like WhatsApp may find the interface a bit confusing, but users can personalize their profiles to find and make friends or discover people you may know nearby.

Tango is available on iOSAndroidand Windows Phone.

Breaking Up Is Hard

It’s inconvenient to switch to an entirely new messaging service, especially if all your friends are dedicated to one app. But you shouldn’t feel forced to turn over your data to Facebook either. All these applications provide messaging services that rival WhatsApp, without the commitment to Facebook services, meaning you’re not turning over your mobile phone book and payment information to the social network in exchange for an efficient messaging service.

Lead image by Susan NYC via Flickr. All other images via app stores. 

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This $50 Box Will Cover Your Online Tracks—If You Don’t Mind Waiting Around

The Safeplug box plugs into your router and reroutes its traffic through Tor, helping users escape detection. But be warned, it takes some time.

By Rachel Z. Arndt

The way most of us surf the web now, traffic takes a pretty direct route. The request you make for a website goes directly from your computer to a server and comes back again, delivered in the form of whatever website you’re visiting. And everything is out in the open, which means anyone who wants to catch a glimpse of your location can do so. But when the request is more like an onion, wrapped in layers of encryption and moved around a roundabout route from your computer to the end server, it becomes almost completely anonymous.

That’s the thinking behind online-anonymity-enabling Tor Project (short for The Onion Routing Project), which is now packaged in hardware form in the Safeplug, a device made by Pogoplug. The $49 box plugs directly into an Internet router and reroutes traffic on that network through Tor, which began with funding from the U.S. Naval Research laboratory (and has popped up in the general consciousness this year as the way to get onto the now defunct Bitcoin marketplace Silk Road). Internet traffic that moves through the Tor network passes, encrypted, through a series of relays before it reaches the intended server and is sent back. So instead of taking a straight path, data move in twists and turns, throwing off would-be stalkers.

Until now, the only way to use Tor has been through the Tor browser. It can be unfamiliar and intimidating to the non-tech-savvy (and some won’t find it terribly aesthetically pleasing). Safeplug takes away that barrier to entry and annoyance. Once the Linux-based box is plugged in, it takes about two minutes to configure it through your browser of choice, whether Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer. And that’s that.

As Safeplug promises, the setup is a breeze. The trouble is in the actual browsing. It’s not the fault of the device, but rather the system it uses. Because it beams your Internet traffic around a twisting path of randomly picked servers on the way to its destination, it’s slow-going. With Safebox plugged in, it took more than a minute to load via an internet connection that runs at about 40 Mbps. There’s some relief in that you can set Safebox to run only on a certain browser and, within that browser, choose websites that bypass Tor. But if you are truly concerned about privacy, you’d want all of your traffic to be encrypted and rerouted, so not running Tor would defeat the purpose.

Another problem comes from connecting the Safeplug to more than one router. I ran into trouble after I’d activated with one router, disconnected it, and plugged it into a second router. The Safeplug stays attached to whatever router it was connected to during initial setup. So when I went through the setup again, with a different router, everything looked successful until I was supposed to hit the settings screen, the final webpage of configuration. It was blank. To make it work, I had to go to my router’s webpage and find the Safeplug’s IP address in the list of connected DHCP clients. Using that address, I could again access the Safeplug settings.

The best use of this tech might be sparing use: Keep the Safeplug attached to a single router, and keep it running not in your favorite browser but in your second favorite one. That way, when you really want to cover your tracks, you can switch over to the oniony browers, and the rest of the time you can browse happily and speedily in your normal browser.

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Facebook Backdoor Gives Clues To Private Email Addresses

by Adam Tanner, Contributor

If you forget your Facebook profile name, you can enter your name, email or phone number into a page called Find Your Account to find your Facebook profile and some alternative email addresses, which are partially obscured such as j*******

The same technique works if you type in other people’s details. Then Facebook can act as a Caller ID and produce a photo, name or clues about a private email. That could help if someone telephones but does not leave a message, or if you want to find a private email address from a company email.

As a test I looked up Gary King, one of two dozen who hold Harvard’s prestigious title of University Professor. His email address is listed on his public webpage. A search of Find Your Account leads to his Facebook profile photo and revealing clues to his alternative email addresses.

I repeated the process for several other people. It did not find everyone– perhaps the telephone numbers or email addresses were not linked with Facebook — but in many cases it did, including for a well-known private detective in Las Vegas whose photo I was able to see.

“This is an interesting case where a feature aimed at giving users a better service actually exposes their private data,” said Michael Bar-Sinai, a software engineer at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science where King serves as director.

He pointed out his privacy settings allowed only friends of friends – not everyone – to look him up with his email address or his phone number. Yet a search finds his photo, name and partial email addresses.

In many cases, “Find Your Address” would not reveal any startling information. However, often a little bit of personal information here and there allows outsiders to gain a far 


more intimate portrait of us than we imagine. One chapter in my upcoming book tries to find a woman whose thumbnail-size image is posted on a Yelppage. Tiny clues in obscure places help reveal her double life on the steamier side of the Internet.

Asked about the information shown by Find Your Account, a Facebook spokesman who did not want to be named said: “Certain information on Facebook—such as your name, profile photo, and networks (if you choose to add any)—is treated as public because it plays a crucial role in helping your friends and family connect with you. In this case, showing a profile photo helps people avoid accidentally initiating a password reset for the wrong account.”

This page describes what Facebook considers public information. Users can adjust their privacy settings with details given here to mask the name and photo from being visible in the password recovery process.

“If you use the password recovery feature to search for someone who has modified these settings such that you can’t look them up using this information, you will see only ‘Facebook User’ and will not be able to view their name, profile photo, or networks,” the spokesman said.

Still, the partial email address remains visible. So using his phone number, I looked up the spokesman via Find Your Account. His name and photo were not given, but I could easily guess what his private Gmail address is from the partially masked information. It showed the first letter of his first name, stars, and the last letter of his uncommon surname followed by

“We show obscured email addresses in the password reset flow because our experience with helping many people recover their accounts over the years suggests that this information is important for helping people find the account recovery message we send,” he said. “Many people have multiple email addresses and don’t always remember which one is registered with Facebook.”

In the case of Professor King, his photo is available elsewhere and he posts his university email on his web page. His private email addresses – for which Facebook provided some clues — would be harder to locate. But he is relaxed about this information being visible.

King cited outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as someone who has made his email address public and referred to that fact in interviews. Ballmer “said he does the same and has no problems.  I get a lot of email, but just like he said, people tend to be respectful,” King said. “I sign out of every automated mailing, which cuts things down some.”

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Privacy concerns raised as Google+ makes it possible to send email via name search

Questions raised as new automatically enabled feature in Google+ lets people send emails to strangers without knowing their email address


Salesforce: Google Plus logo and website screen close up

Google Plus logo and website screen close up Photograph: Alamy

Google is integrating its Gmail service and Google+ social tracking network so that people without your Gmail address can send you emails by a name search.

The move has raised questions about its privacy implications, after similar moves with Gmail and its then-new Google Buzz social network in 2010 led to a row over alleged privacy invasion. Those in turn led to Google being bound to a 20-year privacy oversight by the US Federal Trade Commission.

Google has also made the change opt-out, so that users will have to change their settings to prevent unknown people emailing them. The senders will not see the email address of the person they are sending the message to unless the recipient replies.

Announcing the move in a blogpost, Google product manager David Nachum wrote:

Have you ever started typing an email to someone only to realize halfway through the draft that you haven’t actually exchanged email addresses? If you are nodding your head ‘yes’ and already have a Google+ profile, then you’re in luck, because now it’s easier for people using Gmail and Google+ to connect over email.

Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of non-profit Electronic Privacy Information Center, told Reuters that the new feature was “troubling” and added: “There is a strong echo of the Google Buzz snafu”.

Buzz created an uproar because it tried to create a social network built out from the email contacts that people had. One woman who had separated from her abusive ex-husband said that it revealed the identity of her new boyfriend to him, potentially endangering her and him. Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt later said “nobody was harmed” by the moves.

Google says that Google+, set up in June 2011, has 540m “active” users, but has been vague about how it counts activity. Analysts have suggested that Google+ is not a social network aiming to compete with Facebook, but instead a system for collecting more information about people’s web use. The number of “active” users will have increased since Google made it obligatory in November 2013 to use Google+ to leave a comment on YouTube.

Google has recently faced criticism for over-tight integration of Google+ into products after one transgender user of an early version of its newest version of Android discovered that Google+ had been integrated into its chat system, and sent a message to somone under the woman’s name they were adopting rather than the man’s name the intended recipient was used to. The woman had not expected the system to search Google+ for a contact name – but it did.

Facebook also allows people to send messages through a name search, but does not reveal any information such as emails if the person replies.

Google says it will be rolling out the system over the next few weeks and will automatically email all Gmail users telling them of the changes. It is not possible to create a Gmail account without having a Google+ account.

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Google now lets strangers email you through your Google+ profile


Google is now letting anyone, strangers included, send emails to your Gmail account through your Google+ profile.

People inside and outside of your Google+ profile will be able to send you an email, just by typing the name you use on your profile into the “to” bar, and clicking on you when you appear. The changes were announced in a post on Google’s Gmail blogwritten by product manager David Nachum.

“Have you ever started typing an email to someone only to realise halfway through the draft that you haven’t actually exchanged email addresses? If you are nodding your head ‘yes’ and already have a Google+ profile, then you’re in luck, because now it’s easier for people using Gmail and Google+ to connect over email.

“As an extension of some earlier improvements that keep Gmail contacts automatically up to date using Google+, Gmail will suggest your Google+ connections as recipients when you are composing a new email.”

This, to an extent, could be a really useful tool, but at the same time, the fact that you have to actively opt out of this if you don’t want to be contacted by strangers, rather than choosing to opt in, might throw some Gmail and Google+ users, particularly if they’re not even really aware of the feature.

Telling people they have to opt out of things, or change the default settings to provide themselves with what they might assume is a basic level of privacy is often considered poor etiquette on behalf of tech companies. A similar debate has arisen around porn filters, which from now will beautomatically turned on by broadband providers in the UK, meaning that people will have to actively choose to disable them or use a different security setting.

It’s important to stress that your email address won’t be visible to anyone unless you email them, and similarly, they will only be able to email once until you reply. Emails from mysterious strangers will also go straight into a separate “social” folder (a bit like Facebook’s “other” inbox). As well as turning off the feature altogether, you can choose how different people may communicate with you, depending on whether they’re in your circles, extended circles or are complete strangers to you.

Google says the feature will be rolling out to everyone on Gmail and Google+ over the next few days, and that users will receive an email letting them know they’ve got it. If you don’t want people to be able to contact you through Google+, be sure to disable the feature straight away.

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Snapchat responds to privacy scares by letting users unlink their phone number


Snapchat 5 for iOS

Snapchat has just taken its first steps toward addressing the exploits that led to a leak of 4.6 million phone numbers late last year. Updates to its Android and iOSapps now let you opt out of linking your phone number to your username, preventing others from easily finding you. The company is also reducing the chances for abuse by requiring that you verify your phone number when using Find Friends. They’re not perfect remedies by any means — we’re sure that some would prefer that phone number use is opt-in rather than opt-out, for instance. Snapchat says it’s working on more improvements, though, so it’s at least aware that there’s more work to do before its users can truly feel at ease.

SOURCE: Snapchat BlogApp StoreGoogle Play

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European Civil Liberties Committee Votes To Ask Snowden To Contribute To Its NSA Surveillance Inquiry

by  (@riptari)

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden will be invited to contribute to a European Parliamentary committee’s ongoing inquiry into the U.S. NSA surveillance program.

The European Parliamentary Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee voted to ask Snowden to contribute to its inquiry via video conference earlier today, with 36 votes in favour of inviting the whistleblower to air his views. There were just two votes against, and one abstention.

Snowden is currently living in Russia where he was granted temporary asylum after the U.S. cancelled his passport, stranding him in Moscow airport. It’s unclear whether he will take up the offer to contribute. Snowden has previously indicated he wants to testify before the American Congress before making other contributions.

Later today the LIBE committee will debate its draft report into the U.S. NSA surveillance program, produced by MEP Claude Moraes, which looks at the impact on EU citizens’ fundamental rights and on transatlantic cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs.

The LIBE’s inquiry into the program started in July last year. So far it’s held 15 hearings and submissions from EU and US experts, across EU institutions, national parliaments, U.S. Congress, academics, journalists, civil society, security and technology specialists and private business.

The Inquiry’s draft report, which will be debated by LIBE today, contains recommendations for a “European Digital Habeas Corpus for protecting privacy” with seven suggested actions.

The suggested actions include: adopting the Data Protection Package in 2014; concluding an Umbrella agreement between the EU and US that ensures “proper redress mechanisms for EU citizens in case of data transfers from the EU to the US for law-enforcement purposes”;  suspending the Safe Harbour agreement until a full review is conducted and current loopholes “remedied”; developing a European strategy for “IT independence”; and developing the EU’s role as a “reference player for a democratic and neutral governance of Internet”.

The LIBE’s draft report into NSA surveillance can be viewed here.

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