Telegram has rolled out a feature that lets you import messages from WhatsApp, LINE, and KakaoTalk allowing users to migrate entire chat histories from WhatsApp to Telegram.
This new feature relies on WhatsApp’s “export chat” function, which lets you export the messages in a conversation as a text file. You can also export the photos, videos, audio, and contacts in a conversation.
It isn’t possible to move all of your conversations from WhatsApp to Telegram at once this way. You have to go into each of your contacts and groups, and export all of your chats one by one.
Before deciding whether to transfer all of your WhatsApp messages to Telegram, it is important to know how Telegram will be storing those messages.
Telegram “cloud chats” vs. WhatsApp store-and-forward
When you send a message over WhatsApp and Signal, it is encrypted on your phone and sent to one of the platforms’ servers.
The message is then forwarded — in its encrypted state — to the person or group you are sending it to. Once delivered, the message is deleted from the server.
In other words, the unencrypted message only exists on your phone and on the phones of the people you sent it to.
Telegram has built its platform on an entirely different philosophy. By default, Telegram stores and keeps messages on its servers, along with the keys to decrypt them.
While Telegram does offer a “secret chats” feature that works similarly to WhatsApp and Signal’s end-to-end encryption, but it is not possible to import your WhatsApp messages into a Telegram secret chat.
Telegram’s cloud chats have the benefit that you can log in to your Telegram account from anywhere and access all your messages without having to restore them from a backup.
However, it has a major drawback in that you have to trust that Telegram will not read the contents of your messages, sell them, or monetise them in some other way in future.
Telegram’s privacy record
Telegram’s track record in this regard has been good so far.
It fought an attempt by the Russian government to force Telegram to hand over encryption keys which the Federal Security Service in Russia wanted to use to decrypt users’ messages.
The battle between Telegram and the Russian government ultimately led to the messaging service being banned in Russia.
This in turn led to a high-tech game of cat and mouse that saw Russian authorities blocking Internet Protocol addresses belonging to Amazon Web Services and Google in an attempt to prevent access to Telegram within Russia. Many local businesses were temporarily knocked offline as a result of the fight.
In an FAQ on its website, Telegram states: “To this day, we have disclosed 0 bytes of user data to third parties, including governments.”
WhatsApp cloud backups
To make an informed decision about the privacy and security risks of migrating your messages to Telegram, it’s also important to take WhatsApp’s cloud backup feature into consideration.
WhatsApp offers the ability to back up your messages through integrations with Google and Apple cloud storage services. iPhone users may back up their WhatsApp messages to iCloud, while Android users may use Google Drive.
It is possible to disable cloud backups and opt to manually back up your WhatsApp data.
Whether stored in the cloud or not, these backups are not protected by WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption.
Backing up your WhatsApp messages to the Apple or Google cloud is, in principle, similar to exporting and uploading them to Telegram.
Apple, Google, and Telegram may use their own encryption to protect your messages, but they also hold the keys to decrypt them.
If you wish to use WhatsApp’s cloud backup feature, you must then decide whether you trust Apple or Google to keep your data safe and private.
Similarly, if you wish to migrate your messages to Telegram from WhatsApp you must decide whether you trust it to keep your conversations safe and private.
Another factor to take into account is that while WhatsApp has provided the option to export your messages, Telegram does not offer a similar feature in its mobile app.
The Telegram desktop client does have the ability to export all of your chats either as human-readable HTML or in JSON format.
However, it does not offer the same level of granularity or ease of use that WhatsApp currently does.
Comparison of WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal
The following table compares the key features of WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal.
Not covered here is the issue of the collection and monetisation of personally identifying information by instant messaging applications.
Your messages over free platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram may be encrypted and treated with respect, but that does not stop these platforms from gathering other data such as your usage patterns, contacts, and phone number.
For more on this, please read our earlier report: WhatsApp compared to alternatives Telegram and Signal.
Telegram has also previously disclosed that it plans to roll out advertising in the large public broadcasting groups hosted on the platform. It will introduce its own ad platform rather than supporting and sharing user data with third-party ad platforms.
|End-to-end encryption||Yes (Signal Protocol)||Only in secret chats (MTProto)||Yes (Signal Protocol)|
|Group chats||Max. 256 people||Max. 200,000 people||Max. 1,000 people|
|Group voice calls||Max. 8 people||Thousands of people||Max. 5 people|
|Group video calls||Max. 8 people||Not yet available||Max. 5 people|
|User ID||Phone number only||Phone number or username||Phone number only|
|Cloud storage / backups||Backups to Google or Apple servers available||Encrypted messages stored on Telegram servers. Telegram has keys to decrypt them.||None / Manual backups only|
|Open source encryption software||No — Possibly relicensed from GPLv3 libsignal-protocol||No||Yes|
|Open source client software||No||Yes||Yes|