Telegram discloses user data to police — Report

Telegram has released user data to Germany’s Bundeskriminalamt (federal criminal police office), Der Spiegel reports.

Although it reportedly had good reason for the disclosures, it contradicts information published on Telegram’s website assuring user privacy.

According to the report, Telegram released data from suspects in child abuse and terrorism cases.

Under a section titled “Do you process data requests?” the messaging service’s FAQ states that several court orders from different jurisdictions are required to force it to give up any data.

“To this day, we have disclosed 0 bytes of user data to third parties, including governments,” Telegram’s FAQ said as of 7 June 2022.

Telegram updated its privacy policy in 2018, allowing it to disclose limited information at its discretion in cases involving terrorism.

“If Telegram receives a court order that confirms you’re a terror suspect, we may disclose your IP address and phone number to the relevant authorities,” it states.

“So far, this has never happened. When it does, we will include it in a semiannual transparency report published at: https://t.me/transparency.”

Telegram’s transparency reports channel contains no updates since it was created on 13 August 2018.

Telegram launched the ability to import your chat history from WhatsApp in 2021.

While Telegram has grown in popularity as an alternative to the Facebook-owned WhatsApp, the services have significant differences.

Whereas messaging services like WhatsApp and Signal only offer end-to-end encrypted chats, Telegram defaults to “cloud chats”.

With WhatsApp and Signal, messages are held on servers in encrypted format only for as long as needed to guarantee that they have been delivered.

It is the user’s responsibility to keep backups, although WhatsApp offers integration with iCloud and Google Drive for cloud-based backups. These also recently received encryption.

In contrast, Telegram’s cloud chats are stored on the company’s servers, potentially giving it access to users’ messages.

This has the benefit of giving you access to your whole message history regardless of where you sign into Telegram.

However, it is a potential privacy and security concern.

Telegram assures that cloud chat messages are stored in encrypted format, with data distributed across multiple data centres worldwide and controlled by different legal entities spread across several jurisdictions.

“The relevant decryption keys are split into parts and are never kept in the same place as the data they protect,” Telegram’s FAQ states.

“Thanks to this structure, we can ensure that no single government or block of like-minded countries can intrude on people’s privacy and freedom of expression,” says Telegram.

“Telegram can be forced to give up data only if an issue is grave and universal enough to pass the scrutiny of several different legal systems around the world.”

It should be noted that Telegram does offer end-to-end encryption in “secret chats”, but these are not the default.

Last year, the University of London and ETH Zurich researchers highlighted significant problems with the security of Telegram’s encryption system.

Although Telegram fixed the four specific security flaws the researchers identified, they also highlighted underlying problems with Telegram’s general approach to encryption.

MyBroadband contacted Telegram for comment, but it did not provide feedback by publication time.


Now read: WhatsApp versus Telegram

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Telegram discloses user data to police — Report