place for a picture

Why I dislike Telegram

8.07.23

I recently got rid of my last major social media accounts - Reddit and Twitter. Those pretty much only served as reminders of my past (and Twitter wasn't even used that much at all). I got rid of other accounts much earlier. But there is one social media/messenger hybrid that I will likely have to keep using: Telegram.

People around me seem very attached to it. One community I value exists solely on Telegram, some university teachers use it to distribute assignments and announcements, and students use it for the secondary work chat (the primary one is VKontakte, which is so cancerous that I won't return there no matter how necessary it is).

So, here I will summarize my main gripes with Telegram.

1. Telegram demands your phone number.

The first and most obvious one. Incredibly problematic for several reasons: a) it is pretty much registration with government ID with extra steps (I know there are "gray" simcards, but those aren't exactly legal and I have no idea where to get them); b) it's an identifier that does not belong to you and can be taken away if you fail to pay (plus there's simswapping); c) if (or, rather, when) it's sold and/or leaked, the resulting spam is far more annoying than on email. Oh, and not to mention that you can be simply denied registration, like it happened with Signal messenger in Iran, where the confirmation SMS would just not come due to sanctions. Sure, this can be overcome by using a VoIP number (while I don't know if they're actively fighting those, I heard it can still cause issues), but this should not have been an issue in the first place.

2. Telegram does not allow registration from desktop directly.

Congratulations, you have successfully obtained a simcard that you are comfortable using for Telegram - Maybe tied to your ID, maybe not. But it does just end here. Once you open Telegram Web or the desktop application, you are immediately greeted with... Well, you're first greeted with blank screen, because of course this is all Javascipt... But afterwards you are greeted with only a prompt to log in. Not register. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you are only allowed to use your smartphone, probably so that they get more juicy identifying data from you. As far as I know, this can be bypassed pretty easily by using an Android VM like Android-x86, but this is just so unnecessary. As if they're saying "We don't want you here".

That's not the end of this section. If the developers of Telegram FOSS are to be believed, this year Telegram changed their API to no longer allow registration from unofficial clients. While that doesn't mean anything to someone who doesn't use a smartphone, this is yet another "Fuck you" to everyone else (other threads discussing this).

3. Telegram is unencrypted.

As their own website says - "We support two layers of secure encryption. Server-client encryption is used in Cloud Chats (private and group chats), Secret Chats use an additional layer of client-client encryption". So they say outright that e2e is only present in secret chats. And guess what - only available on spyphones! All the other chats are only encrypted between client and server, which IMO is unacceptable for 1-to-1 messaging even though it's so common. Sure, you can always encrypt your texts with PGP in an external program like Kleopatra and then copy-and-paste it into a chat... But at this point you could be using far more convenient communication methods.

4. Telegram is completely centralized.

Not only are your (unencrypted!) conversations in complete mercy of Telegram Inc., but also if they decide to implement some user-hostile policies - you have no choice other than to accept them or leaving the platform. Biggest example was the introduction of ads in 2021, when all third-party clients were required to show ads under threats of disconnection. Even Reddit (before the downfall) was not as draconian about this! I even came across a Github thread begging to implement ads, how insane that is?

Also the official clients aren't so great. The desktop one is Electron (a.k.a. single-target web browser) while the mobile one is a bit bloated and contains Google proprietary blobs. A little reminder that you HAVE to use it to register, lol.

With centralization also comes vulnerability to law enforcement's requests. People say "Well, Durov fled his country with his company! And there was this big drama with refusing to give out the encryption keys!", but I wouldn't necessarily agree. well, to begin with, I personally think this was either incompetence or mutually beneficial theater, but that is a hypostesis without concrete proof so cannot count as an argument. Point is - whether they did so or not doesn't really matter (although apparently they have). What matters is that they have the capability to. Even if you believe they have genuine principles, you are still basically trusting them to never change.

And last but not least...

5. Telegram is mismarketed.

This one is more of a nitpick, as I am not sure how much this is a fault of Telegram itself rather than its users.

I got an impression that people often feel safer than they should on this platform. Journalists, activists, people who just have "dangerous" views - many of them rely on Telegram. A lot of them are aware of the risks and choose to proceed anyway. But many are not. And thus get a false sense of security. One of the worst outsomes for vulnerable people. Hell, even dealers of illegal goods like drugs or fake IDs made Telegram their marketplace (although not like this means much, many of these guys have shit OPSEC anyway).

Overall... Can you use it safely and privately? Kind of yes.But that would be a lot like using The Classic: if you manage to be good with it, then you'd be able to perform the same with any other sniper rifle, just more effectively.

I'll give credit where credit is due. It has pretty good functionality, and out of all the social media we have Telegram is by far the least annoying. While it also has feature creep (like their recent announcement of Stories), it's not at the point of being unusable, like VK. I'll keep using it. But... I just want people I value to get off. Not to delete their accounts, but to treat Telegram as transparent and public. Ihave not yet written articles like this before, so I would really love feedback.