Generic Telegram stickers on the Honor View 20 on a carpet.

Telegram may be among the most popular messaging services in the world, yet there are still many who don’t know what it’s all about. The app is often name-dropped in discussions regarding online privacy and security, but aren’t all messaging apps secure? Don’t more popular apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger (despite their ties to Facebook) also have the fabled “end-to-end” encryption? What makes Telegram so special?

Keep reading to learn what Telegram does, what its main features are, and why you might consider using it. You can also download the app right away at the link below.

What is Telegram?

The Telegram icon on an Honor View 20 on a flowery pillow.

Telegram is a multi-platform messaging service founded by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov. It first rolled out on iOS and Android in late 2013, and now has an estimated 500 million monthly users. Telegram’s user base tends to increase whenever a privacy scandal hits one of its larger competitors

What makes Telegram unique is its focus on privacy, encryption, and an open-source API. There are countless unofficial clients to go along with the official Telegram apps and web interface. It also allows multiple devices to use the same account (verified by SMS), and multiple accounts on the same device.

How does Telegram work?

Generic Telegram emojis on the Honor View 20 on a table.

Telegram’s core functionality is the same as most other messaging apps: You can message other Telegram users, create group conversations, call contacts, and send files and stickers. However, there are a few specific features that make it work differently from other chat apps.

Read also: WhatsApp vs Telegram vs Signal: Which messaging app should you use?

First and foremost, Telegram’s headline feature is privacy, and to ensure this it employs end-to-end encryption. This is what stops those outside a two-way conversation — be it a company, the government, hackers, or someone else — from seeing what has been sent.

However, Telegram only uses this encryption in calls and in its “secret chats” feature, not in regular chats. Those are only encrypted client to server. Meanwhile, WhatsApp, the supposedly less secure service, has used end-to-end encryption in messages, calls, and video calls since 2016.

Telegram is all about privacy and security, and it isn't beholden to larger companies like Facebook.

The reason for this is Telegram’s enhanced use of the cloud. Essentially, it stores all of your messages and photos on a secure server. This means you can access them from any connected device, making Telegram much more multi-platform friendly than other chat apps like WhatsApp.

Another security feature is usernames. Instead of giving people your phone number, you can simply give them your username. This gives you better control over what information is out there, and how people can contact you in the future.

Is Telegram safe to use?

In general, Telegram is as safe or safer than most other chat apps. It could be argued that WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption on all messaging is a better approach, but the company’s ties to Facebook may turn off privacy advocates.

Plus, if you’re using the “secret chats” feature, you’re getting the same level of end-to-end encryption. On top of this, users can’t forward or screenshot messages in secret chats, and messages can be programmed to self-destruct. Deleting a message also deletes it for everyone on the service, and users have the option to delete not just their own messages, but other users’ messages, too.

Read also: How to protect your privacy using Android

Another thing to keep in mind is that selling your data isn’t at the core of Telegram’s business model. According to Telegram’s FAQ page, the company is funded by its founder and CEO Pavel Durov, not through advertising or data collection and sharing. On the same page, Telegram also lists one of its two tenets of internet privacy as “protecting your personal data from third parties, such as marketers, advertisers, etc.” That puts it in stark contrast to a myriad of services from Facebook, Google, Amazon, and others.

Ultimately though, using Telegram doesn’t necessarily mean your messages are more private or secure than when using WhatsApp or other messaging apps. Server-side data leaks can still happen, and no amount of encryption will help if your end device is already compromised.

Is Telegram free?

Generic Telegram stickers on the Honor View 20 on a carpet.

Telegram is free to use and supported by its founder and CEO Pavel Durov. The company will begin employing new monetization methods in 2021, but the core business of chatting will remain free for everyone.

These new monetization methods include ads on public one-to-many channels (which function like Twitter feeds), premium features for business teams and power users, and paid sticker packs. Some of these funds will go back to users in the form of enhanced visibility for channels or payments to creators of unique sticker packs.

Can Telegram be used on PC?

Since Telegram stores chats and files on a remote server instead of your device, you can also access everything (except secret chats) from the web. Access it via the web portal or any of several Chrome extensions.

The company also makes its API publicly available for free and invites developers to create clients on other platforms. Users can also create custom bots, themes, stickers, and more free of charge.

Pros of switching

android 11 beta priority conversations telegram pushbullet 2

Telegram’s main feature list may cross over with other apps, but there are many specific differences between it and its competitors. Here is a short list some of the major features that may push you to switch messaging apps.

Secret chats

The aforementioned secret chats are where you can take part in end-to-end encrypted messaging with a contact. But that’s not its only benefit: Secret chats also don’t allow a person forward messages from there or take screenshots. Of course, someone could take a picture of the screen with another device, but it’s still discouraged, and it’s bolstered by another feature: self-destruct timers. 

Self-destruct timers

If you don’t want messages in your secret chats to hang around forever, Telegram lets you set self-destruct timers to permanently remove them. After a message is received, it remains in the chat for a predetermined period — you can choose times between one second and one week – before disappearing.

You’ll have to be especially concerned with privacy to want to do this — it means you’ll never have a chat log — nonetheless, it’s a nice option that Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat don’t have. 

Global message deletion

Since an update in 2019, Telegram has allowed users to delete messages sent by other users. It’s a somewhat divisive feature. Having your messages deleted by someone else doesn’t feel very good. But if your conversation is between you and a person you trust, it’s another handy way to control your online communications.

Large file size limit

If you want to send big files, Telegram has much of the competition beat with support for up to 2GB files. Meanwhile, WhatsApp’s limit is a measly 16MB, WeChat’s limit is 100MB, and Skype’s limit is 300MB. Telegram files are also stored in the cloud, so you can access them from other devices.

Customizations

Telegram comes with some customization options absent from many of its competitors where you can choose the dominant app color, how the app opens links, whether or not the UI shows animations, and more. There is also chatbot integration where you can make use of bots to improve the experience. You can even create your own themes, bots, and full apps using the Telegram API.

Cons of switching

New user announcement

A further privacy blunder is that Telegram notifies your contacts when you join it — unless they have previously opted out. The app doesn’t warn you it’s about to ping your contacts, and that’s a big caveat for those who want to use Telegram to keep a low-profile.

Stories and statuses

Telegram lacks the Stories feature of some competing messaging apps which lets you post images or short videos without messaging a contact directly. Admittedly it isn’t an essential feature for most people. 

Users

Possibly the biggest disadvantage Telegram has over more popular messages is simply that: popularity. Despite its hundreds of millions of fans, Telegram is still leagues behind WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat in active monthly users.

If you’re in the West and you meet a new contact, the odds are they’ll prefer using WhatsApp to Telegram messenger. Popularity breeds popularity, and trying to dethrone WhatsApp is an uphill battle for Telegram. 

Should I use Telegram?

The Telegram icon on an Honor View 20 on a blue background with a cat and a fish.
Scott Adam Gordon / Android Authority

“Privacy” itself isn’t a particularly attractive product feature in online services. It can be nebulous: We can’t always feel or understand it, and sometimes it’s only when privacy is taken away that we take it seriously.  

If you’re a particularly private person and troubled by news reports regarding online security and privacy breaches, you should absolutely consider using Telegram with secret chats enabled. You will have largely the same experience as with more popular messaging apps, with greater peace of mind.

That’s far from saying Telegram will protect you from all privacy terrors the online world presents — you should check out our Android privacy guide for a broader look at that. Telegram just offers a good marriage of popularity and security for those with concerns over other messaging apps. 

You can download the app for free from the Google Play Store via the button below — give it a try with a pal if you’re keen. The best way to decide if it’s right for you is to try it for yourself.

Download Telegram app

Other FAQs

Q: Is Telegram Russian?
A: The founder and CEO of Telegram Pavel Durov is Russian, but the company has no ties to the Russian government. In fact, the founder fled Russia in 2015 after being pressured by the Kremlin for his ownership of the social media network VKontakte. The company is currently based in Dubai.

Q: Does Telegram censor or remove content?
A: Telegram does remove copyright-infringing content from public channels, sticker sets, and bots. The company cannot access or remove content from private one-to-one or group chats. 

Q: Will Telegram give my data to governments or third parties?
A: No. Your data is stored on servers spread across several countries, with encryption keys spread across multiple jurisdictions. This means no one government can force Telegram to give up your data. According to the company’s FAQ page, it has never given governments any private data.

Q: Are Telegram calls free?
A: Yes. However, if you are not connected to Wi-Fi you may be subject to data charges if you go over your data limit.

Q: Is Telegram encrypted?
A: Only “secret chats” are end-to-end encrypted by default.

Q: Does Telegram require a phone number?
A: No, it doesn’t. You can use the app and find contacts using just a username.

Q: Does Telegram have group calls?
A: Group voice calls are currently in beta. You can try them by installing the beta version of the app. Note that it will only work for admins in the group.