Looking for a new messenger?

May 18, 2022
Element app

There are many messaging apps out there, but surprisingly little choice.

The reality is that most people want a messenger that:

 

🗣 Allows them to talk to all their contacts

👍 Provides an experience they like

🕵️ Respects their privacy

🔐 Is safe and secure

 

Yet you’ll find most people use messaging apps that only fulfil one (or two if you’re lucky) of those requirements. But why settle for less when you can have it all?!

Let’s run through the main problems with most messaging apps, and then take a look at Element.

Common problems with other messaging apps

Problem 1: Centralised apps

The likes of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Signal are all centralised systems. That means the entire service is owned and managed by one service provider which becomes a single point of failure and a target for those who are trying to find information.

It also means that your data (including your messages) go from your phone onto their servers, so it’s no longer your data; it’s theirs.

Some providers do a better job than others of keeping your messages end-to-end encrypted. Some providers will mine your data, some promise they won’t. WhatsApp used to promise not to, then it got purchased, and as we know, terms and conditions are subject to change.

Most of these messengers also make you ‘findable’ by default and give away your mobile phone number to anyone who looks you up. It’s simply not a private messenger if it flags when you’ve joined. That’s not respecting privacy, nor is it safe and secure.

 

Problem 2: Walled gardens

All these centralised messaging apps share another common drawback: They are all ‘walled gardens’ which means you can only communicate with other people who use the same app. That’s the main reason why people find themselves having to chop and change between multiple messaging apps, social media platforms, email and SMS to keep in touch with all their friends. This isn’t making your life easier - in fact it’s quite the opposite.

Today this problem is being addressed in Europe by the EU’s Digital Markets Act, a piece of legislation pushing for interoperability and a more competitive digital market. Interoperability between apps reduces the grip gatekeepers have on these markets and gives more control to the end users. The US is looking at a similar initiative with the Access Act.

 

Problem 3: Sitting ducks

Because centralised messaging apps hold such huge amounts of data on their users and their messages (which may or may not be encrypted) each app’s backend is a highly-tempting honeypot for attackers - be it criminals, terrorists or nation states. All it takes is one ‘malicious insider’ or a request that the service provider cannot refuse - or a billionaire on a buying spree - and the data would be readily available all in one, easily accessible place.

Breach a centralised app and millions of data sets are available. It’s the same ‘all eggs in one basket’ issue that sees the entire messaging service go down if there’s a technical problem.


So what’s different with Element?

Element, and the Matrix open standard on which it is built, is decentralised. That splits the app itself from where the data is stored, putting users (rather than the apps) in control. Element is end-to-end encrypted by default (which is more unusual than you might imagine), and designed to interoperate with any other Matrix-based app (there are lots of them).

 

Advantage 1: Decentralised design

Because Element is a decentralised messaging app, it gives people far more flexibility. People get to choose where their data is kept with a dedicated hosting provider (such as Element Matrix Services with Element One) or a free public server (the biggest being Matrix.org). Some users even self-host using their own hardware. In short, Element users get to decide which privacy policy they trust.

By separating out the app and the hosting, Element users are protected by a service that can’t be evil because it’s not ‘controlled’ by Element. Unlike closed services where users have to simply trust an organisation saying that it “won’t be evil” now or in the future.

Being decentralised also protects against a ‘network outage’ as - like the web - it has thousands of servers so specific servers might go down but this doesn’t stop the other servers on the network from communicating with each other.

 

Advantage 2: Interoperable messaging

Element is based on a secure, open standard network called Matrix. That means it’s the very opposite of a walled garden. Any Matrix-based messaging app (and there are many) works with another, in the same way you can send and read emails from another person that’s using a different email app (Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, Apple Mail etc.).

Matrix also has a range of bridges which means that it’s even possible to seamlessly message friends who are still in old-fashioned centralised apps, directly from Element, instead of needing to switch apps and getting lost in an App Fog. To make the bridging no-hassle and easy, we've created Element One which comes with WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram bridges bundled in. Element Matrix Services also offers fully managed bridges that let people simply select the bridges they want.

Advantage 3: Safe and secure

As you might expect from a privacy-centric messaging app, Element also has powerful security features. It’s end-to-end encrypted, and uses cross-signed device verification to protect against eavesdroppers and imposters. Users are free to create an account without a phone number, so they don’t have to worry about sharing those details with the outside world.


What else?

Every messaging app has its bells and whistles. Element has a few more than most because - in the world of work - it’s also a collaboration app.

So it does a whole bunch of extra stuff such as:

 

  • Spaces - to help organise your contacts and discussions.
  • Editable messages - so yuo dunt look dum wen u doo ytops
  • Voice and video - through Element Call and Jitsi
  • Polls - so you can settle any debates in a fun and fair way! Any polls posted in encrypted rooms are end to end encrypted, as are the results.
  • Location Sharing - for that extra layer of safety and convenience. Perfect for meeting up with family and friends at a busy event.
  • Widgets - embed full-blown interactive apps into your chat rooms!

 

Getting started

It’s worth highlighting that the Element app is completely free to use and is available to download on Web, Android, iOS, macOS, Windows and Linux.

Remember the app and data hosting being deliberately separated? Well, if you want free hosting that’s easy; free hosting from matrix.org is the default when setting up the app. There are other free public servers available too.

There are also some paid hosting services, which offer a few extras:

For $5 per month, Element One brings your WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram chats into Element which are hosted and bridged, for speed and ease.

For $10 per month, Element Home is a good option for small groups or families as it offers five accounts (you can add more if you want) that can all enjoy the benefits of fast, pro-privacy and secure hosting.


We can help you be in your Element by putting you in control. To learn more check out our website here.

Related Posts

By the same author

Thanks for reading our blog— if you got this far, you should head toelement.ioto learn more!