World-leading messaging applications Skype and Snapchat are among the least secure on the market, and have been given a dressing-down by Amnesty International.
Amnesty's new metric, the Message Privacy Ranking, took a look at 11 of the most popular messaging apps, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Skype and Viber. The apps were marked on their use of encryption and privacy safeguards, as well as how well they advised their users of the app's security, and whether they released details of government requests for user data.
While Snapchat's initial allure for many early users was that messages and pictures 'self-destruct' and are erased after a number of seconds, the photo messaging service scored just 26 out of 100 on Amnesty's metric. It beat only Blackberry, with a score of 20, and Chinese service Tencent -- behind the Wechat app -- scored zero out of one hundred.
"If you think instant messaging services are private, you are in for a big surprise. The reality is that our communications are under constant threat from cybercriminals and spying by state authorities. Young people, the most prolific sharers of personal details and photos over apps like Snapchat, are especially at risk," said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, the head of Amnesty International's Technology and Human Rights Team.
Amnesty said end-to-end encryption, where a message is scrambled in transmission and can only be seen by the sender and viewer, should be a minimum global privacy standard for leading messaging services.
"It is up to tech firms to respond to well-known threats to their users' privacy and freedom of expression, yet many companies are falling at the first hurdle by failing to provide an adequate level of encryption. Millions of people are using messaging apps that deny them even the most basic privacy protection," Elsayed-Ali said.
Amnesty said Skype used "a weak form of encryption" and only gave it 40 out of 100, joining Snapchat, Blackberry and Tencent at the bottom of the ladder.
"None of these companies provide end-to-end encryption of their users' communications," Amnesty said.
At the other end of the spectrum, Facebook got the top score of 73 out of 100. Its platforms of Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp were ranked as the most secure, on Amnesty's metric.
"Facebook is doing the most out of the 11 companies assessed to use encryption to respond to human rights threats, and is most transparent about the action it's taking," Amnesty said.
"However, despite including end-to-end encryption as an option with its new "secret conversation" feature, Facebook Messenger's default mode uses a weaker form of encryption, which means Facebook has access to all the data. WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption by default and notably provides clear information to users about encryption within the app."
Apple's iMessage and Facetime apps got 67 out of 100, but were criticised for not telling users that their regular SMS messages were less secure than iMessage. Telegram also scored 67.
"Apple's iMessage and Facetime apps [provide] full end-to-end encryption by default. Apple has also taken a public stance against "encryption backdoors", and discloses government requests for government data," Amnesty said.
"However the company should do more to notify users within the apps themselves about when their information is protected through end-to-end encryption and when it is not (for example when you send a message to a non-iPhone user)"
MESSAGE PRIVACY RANKING:
- Facebook (Messenger, Whatsapp): 73/100
- Apple (iMessage, Facetime): 67
- Telegram: 67
- Google (Allo, Duo, Hangouts): 53
- Line: 47
- Viber: 47
- Kakao: 40
- Microsoft (Skype): 40
- Snapchat: 26
- Blackberry (Blackberry Messenger): 20
- Tencent (Wechat): 0
See the Amnesty report card here.