Chatting and video calling apps have become a necessity and a norm for all technology users worldwide making them a popular demand on smartphones and other devices alike in today’s digital landscape. However, the most concerning issue that has continuously become a global outcry is whether these apps are secure, and also if the companies behind them do care about user privacy rights.
Mozilla recently, under its Privacy Not Included initiative revealed its results from the latest round of research showing which video calling apps meet the standards when it comes to privacy and security.
One has to note that when the pandemic hit, and strict lockdowns became a norm almost everywhere in the world. Most of these apps reviewed became a popular outlet for many to communicate with one another, giving opportunities to apps like Zoom to flourish.
The review covered more than 15 popular video call apps from the likes of Zoom, Telegram, Signal, WeChat, Viber, WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams, and many others. The research seeks to uncover and alert users on which video call apps protect their privacy or if they earn Mozilla’s Privacy Not Included warning label.
In the research, three apps came on top as not meeting the standards of privacy and security. The video calling apps in question included Houseparty from Epic Games, Facebook Messenger (and Facebook Messenger Kids), and WeChat from Tencent.
Meanwhile, the other video calling apps that passed Mozilla’s Privacy Not Included warning label, and were found to be within the recommended standards of privacy and security included the following;
|Google Duo/Google Hangouts/Google Meet
|Blue Jeans (Verizon)
|Marco Polo (Joya Communications)
However, each of the above apps had extensive reviews done on them by the team, and some still had some concerning issues that were discovered later or were still a concern. You can find out more via the Privacy Not Included page.
Why Houseparty, Facebook Messenger and WeChat earned Mozilla’s Privacy Not Included warning label
When it comes down to it, Houseparty from Epic Games, Facebook Messenger (and Facebook Messenger Kids), and WeChat from Tencent didn’t fare so well in the research study.
At the start of the pandemic, the Privacy Not Included team jumped to review the privacy and security of 15 of the most popular video call apps that were popular at the time when the world was on strict lockdown.
A year and a half later, more apps were added to the review panel seeing that a number of users around the world care about their privacy and also the security of the apps they use on a daily basis to communicate with others across the globe.
It also shows how important privacy and security have become a top feature to consider when making a smart choice on what chat or video calling app to use so as to stay safe online in these current times where cyber security threats continue to grow at alarming rates.
Here’s why Houseparty, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat didn’t make the cut;
Houseparty is designed for hanging out with friends, playing games, integrating with Snapchat, and live streaming Fortnite. The app lets you have up to eight people in a video call room at once and users can have as many rooms open as they like.
The app also allows users to jump from one call room to another easily, and one can even “sneak” into another Houseparty without your contacts knowing. The app works on Android, iOS, Mac, and as a Google Chrome extension.
In the review, Houseparty wasn’t deemed as a privacy-focused app because of the following;
- limited password requirements which mean one is able to use a weak password such as ‘12345’ to access the app
- it uses tracking tools to collect data through the social media or gaming platforms you might connect and shares it with third parties and with their parent company, Epic Games
- it has few protections to stop people from crashing your party even when you do lock it, anyone else in the room can unlock it or invite their friends in
Aside from that, Houseparty was at the centre of controversy over a supposed massive data breach in March 2020, when some users claimed that their online accounts, including Spotify, Paypal, Instagram, Snapchat, Netflix, PayPal, have been compromised.
The company denied the data breach, claiming that the rumours were a smear campaign. It also offered a $1 million bounty to a person who can prove a breach. It remains unclear if the breach happened.
Facebook Messenger (and Facebook Messenger Kids)
Facebook Messenger has features like video chat, the ability to record voice messages, text chats, group chats, photos, video sharing and a feature called Messenger Rooms that allows up to 50 people to chat over video at once even without a Facebook account.
While Facebook Messenger Kids is a messaging app targeted at kids under 13 who are not yet old enough to join Facebook. It lets kids video chat and messages their friends through their parents’ Facebook account.
In their review, they found that Facebook Messenger possess the following threats;
- using Messenger Kids may not be a great idea for your children given the company’s poor track record in privacy rights
- Facebook isn’t clear about its ads policies and whether they don’t use your personal information to show you ads since lots of metadata is collected by the app
It is also noted that Facebook collects a great deal of metadata through its messenger apps which it later uses for ad targeting and reserves the right to share it with numerous third parties. There are no ads served to kids in Facebook Messenger and the company claims they don’t use data from the Messenger Kids app for ads in their other apps.
However, it does still collect children’s data and it is recommended that users be wary of the app as you’re trusting Facebook with information about your young children given the company’s long history of mishandling user data and privacy rights.
The popular social media and messaging app owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent has over a billion active users. It is also one of the most downloaded apps in the world offering features like text chat, video and voice chat, location sharing, stickers, games, WeChat Pay, and even ways to exercise with your friends.
However, despite being feature-rich, it is also one of the least private messaging apps the Privacy Not Included team came across. The app review revealed the following shocking discoveries that anyone should be worried about such as;
- the lack of end-to-end encryption
- previous data leak of hundreds of millions of private chat logs
- the banning of LGBTQ friendly and feminist accounts
- alleged foreign surveillance and censorship
Even though the app offers some really good features and has a strong billion user base, WeChat’s bad track record on privacy and security makes it a no go. According to the report, the only way to protect your privacy when using WeChat is to never use it at all making it to the Privacy Not Included list.
At the end of the day, whatever video calling app you decide to use depends on what you’re willing to compromise. If you’re someone who is very keen on security and privacy, then you should be careful about what app you choose to go with.
Check out: What Are the Best Alternatives to WhatsApp?
Author: Allan Bangirana
Allan Bangirana has a taste for all kinds of topics and usually writes about tech, entertainment, sports and community projects that make a difference in society.