There is certainly no shortage of messaging apps to choose from, but a select few have risen to the top. Telegram is one of the most popular choices—especially for the privacy-conscious. So what’s it all about?

At the most basic level, Telegram does many of the things you’d expect from an instant messaging app, including text messages, group chats, voice and video calls, stickers, and file sharing. However, there’s more going on under the surface.

RELATED: How to Auto-Delete Messages in Any Telegram Chat

A Brief History of Telegram

Telegram was launched in 2013 by a pair of brothers, Nikolai and Pavel Durov. They were also the founders of the popular Russian social network VK, before leaving the company for political reasons.

Nikolai is responsible for the MTProto protocol, which is a proprietary encryption scheme. This is essentially the “secret sauce” behind Telegram’s privacy-focused approach. In addition, the company does not disclose where its offices are located in an attempt to avoid governmental data requests.

In 2014, Telegram had already reached 35 million monthly users and 15 million daily users. By the end of the year, that number was up to 50 million active users. The app was already seeing 1 billion messages per day and adding one million users per week.

Telegram’s insane growth continued. By early 2016 it was up to 100 million monthly users. That number doubled by early 2018. In late 2021, Telegram gained over 70 million users as a result of a Facebook outage that included WhatsApp. As of March 2022, Telegram has 500 million monthly active users.

What Makes Telegram More Private?

Telegram User Automatically Deleting Messages After Set Time
Khamosh Pathak / How-To Geek

As mentioned a few times already, privacy is a big part of Telegram. In fact, it’s the sole reason why many people choose it over other messaging apps. What exactly makes it more private than others, though?

Telegram utilizes encryption for all chats, but only end-to-end encryption for “Secret Chats.” This is a key difference between Telegram and Signal, which uses end-to-end encryption for all chats. Telegram does this in order to utilize the cloud more than other secure messengers.

For example, Signal, which uses end-to-end encryption for everything, doesn’t sync conversations across devices. Telegram conversations will sync across devices thanks to the cloud. They’re encrypted from client to server only.

Another privacy feature of Telegram is you don’t need to give out your phone number. You can create a Telegram username to share with people and keep your phone number private.

Lastly, Telegram makes its source code, the MTProto protocol, and APIs available for anyone to view. People can check and see exactly how everything works. Telegram is also not in the business of selling user data. It’s funded by Pavel—not ads or data collection.

RELATED: How to Start an Encrypted Secret Chat in Telegram

Is Telegram Free?

Yes, Telegram is completely free to use. It has been funded by one of the founders, Pavel Durov. However, he has outlined plans for how to make Telegram sustainable.

Eventually, there will be ads on public one-to-many channels, “Premium” features for power users and businesses, and paid sticker packs. The core features of chatting will remain free for everyone. Features that have been free will remain free.

Where to Use Telegram

Telegram user deleting their account
Natee Meepian/Shutterstock

The nice thing about Telegram’s use of the cloud is you can easily use it on multiple devices and platforms. However, keep in mind that Secret Chats are stored only on the device and are not synced with the cloud.

Telegram offers official apps for Android, iPhone, iPad, Windows, Mac, Linux, and the web. Since the Telegram API is available to everyone, there are also third-party apps, custom bots, themes, and tons of stickers to choose from.

Is Telegram Right For You?

Sadly, even the best messaging app in the world is pretty useless if no one you want to talk to is using it. However, if privacy is a big concern of yours, Telegram is a good middle-ground to get people to switch to.

You get some nice privacy benefits while still having the convenience of cloud syncing between your devices. That makes it an easier sell to some people compared to something more locked down like Signal. Plus, Telegram has tons of fun instant messenger-y features like stickers to play with.

If you’re someone that cares about privacy but doesn’t want to give up some modern conveniences, Telegram is a great choice. The hard part is convincing your friends to join you.

RELATED: Signal vs. Telegram: Which Is the Best Chat App?

Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
Read Full Bio »