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Threema app rises to overtake WhatsApp

As concerns grow about snooping on messages, encrypted alternative Threema is coming into the conversation.

The security and sanctity of encrypted messaging apps remain some of the big unknowns for users of big tech platforms. There is a litany of different descriptions out there that claim various elements of security and encryption for their users but scratch beneath the surface, and the reality becomes a little more complex.

Signal is often considered one of the major, most reliable encrypted messaging apps because of its end-to-end encryption and its open-source, auditable source code. The European Union even gave the app its imprimatur of legitimacy, advising staff to use it in order to avoid hacking or snooping.

But there is another competitor to the crown of the best-encrypted messaging app: Threema. Like Signal, the app is open-sourced and does not require a phone number or email address to develop a profile on the app, meaning that it limits the ability to link your digital presence back to your physical one – important in countries where authoritarian regimes will often use court orders and metadata to try and identify dissidents through their online activity, then arrest them in real life.

All hail Threema?

Despite its recent rise in popularity, Threema has long been a stalwart of secure messaging for its most ardent users, with 10 million of them worldwide as of late 2021. Developed by a Swiss company of the same name, it was first launched in December 2012 and runs on its own proprietary servers. Like many other communication platforms, it offers instant messaging and voice calling, with both encrypted from end to end.

Threema has often thrived as a result of WhatsApp struggling. In 2013, just months after its official launch, Threema saw a flurry of interest after a series of disclosures by whistleblower Edward Snowden highlighted the extent to which governments and law enforcement were spying on messages and communications sent through big tech companies’ platforms thanks to the installation of ready-made backdoors for law enforcement purposes. At that point, Threema saw its user base increase by 900%.

Another concern with WhatsApp – its purchase and takeover by Facebook, now Meta, in February 2014, added yet more users, who were concerned that the big tech company that had taken over WhatsApp would be less stringent with its security. Threema doubled its user base in 24 hours after the Facebook purchase of WhatsApp.

Where WhatsApp fails, Threema succeeds

Fast forward to 2021 and another flurry of downloads of Threema was linked to a blip in WhatsApp’s service – this time, changes to their privacy policies that some saw as a softening of their security. As a result, Threema was packing on “hundreds of thousands of new users each day,” according to the company’s head of marketing and sales.

Threema has many of the same functionalities as WhatsApp, including a business version that can be used by companies looking for security. The app has faced issues of its own, with Swiss researchers highlighting a number of vulnerabilities that Threema reportedly solved in conjunction with the academics who had highlighted the vulnerabilities. Their existence was disclosed in January 2023.

That scrape could have spelled the end of Threema, but the openness with which they treated the issue and the speed at which they fixed the vulnerabilities has meant many see them as a viable alternative to WhatsApp. While user numbers still pale in comparison to the much larger, well-established competitor, Threema has constantly grown over time. And with more scrutiny than ever on how safe our messages are when they leave our devices, Threema could well become the next big thing.

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