Telegram’s website states that a disclosure of user data to government agencies “has never happened.” However, a recent investigation in Germany claims that Telegram is actively sharing user data with government agencies and also censoring content.
Telegram is a very popular secure messaging app with over 500 million users worldwide. Many people trust the service to provide a private communication platform that is safe from prying eyes. However, an investigation out of Germany suggests that Telegram is sharing user data with government agencies.
The report conducted by Der Spiegel argues that Telegram has an active and ongoing data-sharing relationship with the country’s Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt or BKA). Der Spiegel claims there are “several cases” of Telegram sharing user data with authorities.
From Der Spiegel (Google translate):
Contrary to what has been publicly stated so far, the operators of the messenger app Telegram have released user data to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) in several cases. According to SPIEGEL information, this was data from suspects in the areas of child abuse and terrorism. In the case of violations of other criminal offenses, it is still difficult for German investigators to obtain information from Telegram, according to security circles.– Der Spiegel report
According to Der Spiegel, it was not always easy for government agencies to acquire data from Telegram. However, the recent change marks an “about-face” for the company.
The fact that Telegram provides information about users to authorities at all marks at least a cautious about-face in the course of the company, which was founded in 2013. For a long time, German investigators did not get any answers when they wanted to know who was behind the Telegram accounts that were spreading criminal content online.
Telegram claims to be a secure and private chat messaging app. You can see this directly on the Telegram homepage:
Nothing to report, or zero transparency?
Ongoing cooperation with government agencies
Based on Der Spiegel’s report, there are two types of cooperation going on between the German government and Telegram:
- Cooperation to restrict content. This could come in the form of restricting or blocking certain channels deemed offensive, dangerous or “illegal” by government bodies.
Der Spiegel claims that German politicians began pressuring Telegram in February of this year. Ultimately, it appears this pressure paid off. Telegram and the German government agreed to setup up a direct communication line.
The Federal Ministry of the Interior has been in direct talks with Telegram since early February to get the service to cooperate with German authorities and block criminal content. During the first exchange, Telegram boss Durow appeared personally in a hoodie in the video call, along with three other high-ranking representatives of the company, including, to the surprise of the ministerial, a senior German-speaking employee. Participants described the exchange afterwards as thoroughly friendly and constructive. Durow emphasized the importance of the German market and signaled that he would take the concerns and demands seriously. It was agreed to set up a reliable direct channel at the working level.– Der Spiegel report
According to the report, there have been two other meetings between Telegram employees and the German Federal Ministry of Justice since February.
The requests by the German government for Telegram’s help with censorship and providing user data come as no surprise. Germany has very strict laws on what type of content can be published online under the “NetzDG” (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz) regulations.
These laws basically allow the government to force social media platforms to censor, delete, or block any content that they deem to be illegal within 24 hours — or face massive fines.
Unlike the US, Germany has much stricter limits on free speech. The NetzDG law officially went into effect in 2018 and it is aimed at combatting “hate speech and illegal content” on social media.
Telegram has already racked up $55 million in fines from the German government under the NetzDG laws. The reason for these fines was Telegram’s failure to remove content in a timely manner at the request of the German government.
Telegram, however, is not based in Germany. It is based in Dubai. Whether or not it would even need to comply with Germany’s laws is another question that is surely open to interpretation. So far, Telegram has ignored Germany’s fines and letters sent to its Dubai office.
Of course, businesses do need to comply with the laws in the countries where they are based. Take Proton Mail, for example. Last year we noted how Proton Mail logs users in cases where it is required by Switzerland courts. And in 2020 alone, that happened 3,017 times.
Alternative secure messaging apps
For those who are troubled by these developments, there are other options to consider that we have profiled in our guide on secure encrypted messaging apps.
One of the most popular alternatives is Signal, which has also surged in popularity over the past few years. Signal is free, open source, and enjoys popularity with millions of users. But like Telegram, it also requires a phone number for registration, which is a drawback for privacy.
Also worth mentioning is Threema. Threema is a paid app (not free) and also has fewer users than Telegram and Signal. However, it comes with privacy advantages over Signal and Telegram in that it does not require any phone number or email for registration.
We have reached out to Telegram for comment on this situation and will update this article with any new information.
We invite all lovers of privacy and anonymity to our blog! We have analyzed all the existing messengers today, collected their characteristics, and identified their advantages and disadvantages. Why NOT Viber, WhatsApp, Telegram? Are secure Signal, Threema, Briar secure? What about Matrix and XMPP? Whats better? Thirsty reader find the answers in our review: [https://kr-labs.com.ua/blog/top-secure-and-privacy-messaging-apps/]
there is also an messaging app called “matrix” , its decentrilazed, has open source homeserver implementations and open source client apps
Whichever communication channels we choose, whether it be for instant messaging, E-mails or good old-fashioned telephone calls, the so-called ‘Security Services’ (SS) have full access, whether through court orders, for which they simply have to cite the target as a “paedophile” or a “terrorist” as justification, or by direct ‘back-door’ access to the reportedly secure software involved.
It’s well publicised that the National Security Agency (NSA)[spit] of the USA admit that they have access to all communication methods, along with necessary decryption keys for the “safe” options, no matter which country they are based in. They admitted that secure services, even in countries with highly protective security policies in place, like Switzerland, have given up their users.
Who knows what threats are made to service providers like Telegram, Signal, VPNs, secure E-mail (Protonmail, Riseup, etc.) that force them to comply? But comply they do!
Let’s face it, if you use Microsoft’s Windows and Google’s Android operating systems, you may as well simply forward all your communications to these evil entities anyway.
My VPN provider is based in Switzerland and declares that it ‘keeps no records’ on my usage. I say “BULLSH**!”. But it allows me to access web-sites which are otherwise blocked by the fascist dictatorship I live under in Asia.
The only advice on offer from me is ‘trust nobody, believe nothing!’
what VPN do you use?
How can I trust a website or app that doesn’t allow 2FA over VOIP numbers and insist on you providing them a genuine physical VOIP number? These services (and companies) must wake up and understand that VOIP is now the norm. But obviously, they have their own motives/agendas for insisting you provide them your mobile number. What’s next, your social security (or similar) number? Maybe a driver’s license to verify your identity?
Signal will be next . It is only a matter of time .
The word was in the grape vine with Telegram long before this happened though .
I have been using Telegram since 2015. It’s my all-time favorite messenger app. But recently I have been not so happy about it. They have censored all major Russian news sites on their channel claiming that they violate local laws. Sputniknews has been banned in Europe (website) but rtnews has not. Why they chose to ban those news channel is beyond my imagination. They use my phone number (I don’t even live in Germany) to ban the channels because if you live in the US you can see those channels. What this article is showing has been going on since February the 24th. It comes as no surprise to me.
But I trust Signal a lot less as it’s based in the US. As with email providers I must admit it looks like we have no privacy any longer.
wire and teleguard + switzerland. signal and telegram sucks because they are widespread and their jurisdiction sucks too! the less you use a program, the better your privacy!
“They have censored all major Russian news sites” – at least this they did right, russian propaganda is sick
Glem, all propaganda sucks, including American propaganda (this coming from an American). We don’t need censorship. People should have access to all information and be able to make up their own minds!
Reluctantly, I must agree with you. One heck of a ride we are on for sure.
Still think Telegram works well via secret chat and I will continue to use it.
That’s not the problem, the govt prefer to have access to your metadata than to your content, cause in this way they knew better all about you.
Telegram = GRU operation
Secret GRU chat.
Telegram writes they will update its transparency channel semiannual. So we will have to wait a few months.
Still much better than whatsapp.
Of course Germany is demanding Telegram give up user data. In Germany, if you post something to Facebook or Twitter that the regime doesn’t like, you may get a surprise visit from the Polizei who come bashing your door down, arrest you, and steel all of your electronics for some dubious investigation. You could be charged with all sorts of crimes for “hate speech” or “fake news” or any other label they want to throw at you.
Police State Germany on display:
Looks like Telegram has bowed down to this insanity, unfortunately.
I wonder if this is just a media scare tactic to prevent people from using the service. All we have is “Der Spiegel says”……Which is too reminiscent of Western corporate media. The logging policy is enough for me to avoid it, as well as being based in the UAE, where human rights violations are normal and is also a big player in the WEF’s “Great Reset”.
Der Spiegel is not public (state) broadcasting, it’s beyong me why private media or press enterprises would care about anything besides making us read/buy their crap; but then I’m probably not half as deep into conspiracy/anti-corp/”West” BS. (You think Telegram is Salvation Army?) Though you could’ve at least gathered, or somehow baked into your logic, they’re at least worried enough about Telegram as to run reports like this, otherweise you wouldn’t have enjoyed this article either. And just because it’s all you have doesn’t mean it’s all there is. If I understand correctly there’s a bit of background to this as there was in fact a recent search and arrest of some Telegram user, IIRC based in Hamburg. Who, feeling super-safe (in Hamburg^^) and super-leet (using Telegram^^), happened to post pro-Russian shit, possibly plus selfies wielding silly weapons. Yet as is typical for an orc still turned out beeing too dumb to use a VPN, d’oh! Anyone’s guess how they might have got at him. 😉 As for that the Spiegel has at least packed some substance, but of course do feel free to trust your selfless, faceless TG heroes. Surely someone, somewhere is ripping themselves apart for you all the time; after all, you’re using their *freemium* service. Lol.