What is Telegram? A quick guide to the fast and secure messaging platform

·4 min read
telegram messaging app
The Telegram messaging app is a popular alternative to WhatsApp and Signal. NurPhoto / Contributor/Getty Images
  • Telegram is a cross-platform messaging service with enhanced encryption and privacy.

  • Most messages feature client-to-server encryption, but Secret Chat messages have end-to-end encryption.

  • Telegram also supports group chats and self-destructing messages as well.

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Telegram is a popular cross-platform messaging app that is widely used because it offers some enhanced privacy and encryption features as well as support for large group chat features. It also has no ties to other social media platforms (both Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are owned by Facebook, for example), which makes the service more appealing to some.

The app is multiplatform, with versions of the app available for iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, and Linux. You can also access the Telegram from a web browser.

telegram messaging app on android tablet
You can access the Telegram app on a variety of devices, like Android tablets. Chesnot / Contributor/Getty Images

Telegram was founded by Russian social media entrepreneur Pavel Durov, and the service is free to use.

What to know about Telegram's privacy and security

Telegram's signature feature is its end-to-end encryption, but it's important to be aware that not all communication within Telegram has this level of privacy. Most messages use client-to-server encryption, which is less secure than end-to-end, but allows you to access your Telegram chats from other devices, including the web.

For true end-to-end encryption, you need to use Telegram's Secret Chat feature. These secret chats offer substantially more robust security, but are only accessible from the device you originated the message on.

Telegram's privacy and security is considered trustworthy in part because the service's API is open-source and available for evaluation and integration by any developer.

Telegram pros and cons

If you already use another app for one-on-one and group chats, you might not find Telegram compelling enough to use it. But if you are looking for a highly secure messaging app that has rock-solid security and privacy, Telegram can fit the bill. Here are some pros and cons to using Telegram:

Pros

  • End-to-end encryption: When using the Secret Chat mode, communication is completely encrypted from end to end, rendering communication essentially bulletproof. You can also get end-to-end encryption in apps like WhatsApp and Signal.

  • Self-destructing messages: Secret messages can be configured to self-destruct after a set period of time, making it even more secure. This is similar to what you can do in apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger.

    telegram messaging app auto-delete
    You can set messages to auto-delete after a certain amount of time. Anadolu Agency / Contributor/Getty Images
  • Large file sizes: Telegram supports file attachments up to 2 GB in size. This is one area where Telegram has virtually all other messaging apps beat. Only Skype comes even remotely close, limiting you to 300 MB files. Most apps are much more limiting - WhatsApp is just 16 MB, for example.


Cons

  • Limited user base: While Telegram has several hundred million active monthly users, it's still significantly smaller than the 1 billion-plus active user bases on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. That means there's a good chance your friends and contacts are not using the app.

  • New user announcements may violate privacy: One of the main reasons many people join Telegram is to be able to send secure and private messages. That's why it's frustrating that your contacts already on the app get notified when you join.

  • It's a gathering place for conspiracy theorists and hate groups: As mainstream social media services increasingly take down QAnon groups, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups and conspiracy theorists, Telegram has become an attractive gathering place for many of these groups because of the enhanced security and permissive content policies, though Telegram has ramped up efforts to disable accounts run by hate groups and extremists.

How to find and join groups on the Telegram messaging app, with or without an invite linkHow to delete your account on the Telegram messaging platform, which wipes all your data upon deletionHow to invite people to Telegram, create group chats, and add new members on desktop and mobileHow to make a Telegram account and start using the popular group chatting app

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