An overview of privacy-focused, decentralized, open source alternatives to
spyware instant messengers like WhatsApp, Telegram,
Signal, Viber, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and Apple iMessage.
Session: It’s Signal, but fully open source, decentralized and green. Literally.
Session does not require a phone number to sign up and uses Lokinet, a Tor-like anonymization network, to connect to individual nodes. It’s built on the very same basis that the Signal apps use and hence looks and feels nearly identical to Signal.
Session has its own F-Droid repository.
Like Session, SimpleX is an open source, decentralized instant messenger. However, unlike Signal or Session, SimpleX doesn’t have any sort of user IDs. This means you don’t have to provide neither a phone number nor a username to be able to use it, and you can creates different profiles for use with different people/groups of people.
Briar: The O.G. tinfoil hatter service of choice for open source, decentralized, fully peer-to-peer E2EE instant messaging. Briar does not only use WiFi connections – optionally via Tor – but can also connect through Bluetooth and even use memory cards to pass on encrypted messages physically! In addition, Briar offers a dedicated Briar Mailbox app, that is supposed to act as an always available proxy for retrieving messages, for people who might not keep their primary device online all the time.
Tox is an open source, peer-to-peer instant messenger that primarily focuses on desktop use, providing mainly desktop clients and an Android app. Due to the P2P nature, Tox leaks a user’s IP address to contacts, which can however be avoided by tunneling connections through Tor – which Tox supports. Like many other messengers, Tox also supports PFS.
The aTox Android app is available on the official F-Droid repo.
Status (Messenger) is a Web3-focused, open source instant messenger that offers 1:1 and group chats with E2EE, PFS, and metadata privacy. Status is part of the Ethereum ecosystem and hence implements a wallet as part of the messenger.
The Status Android app is available on the official F-Droid repo.
Cwtch (read: “kutch”) is a decentralized, open source instant messenger with a focus on metadata-privacy. Everyone can run their own instance of the Cwtch server, and unlike Signal, WhatsApp and other platforms, there is no centralized server having access to either messages or connections. With Cwtch all communication is end-to-end encrypted and takes place over Tor v3 onion services.
XMPP, the mother of all decentralized instant messaging services and a true O.G. on the block is probably the most diverse and well-known protocol/platform to this date. With a gazillion of implementations, XMPP supports every operating system you can think of.
For more info on how to set up your own IM based on XMPP, and what clients to use, follow my write-up on running your own instant messaging service on FreeBSD!
I’m trusting and using many of these messengers myself. If you’re interested in other services and software that I use on a day-to-day basis, check out my infrastructure page.