Secure messaging apps like Signal and Telegram go the extra mile to protect your privacy and secure your conversations. But what if you really want to chat anonymously, without revealing your personal phone number?
While this is possible, it does require a bit of patience to set it up.
Signal and Telegram require your phone number
To use Sign or Telegram, you need a phone number. This number is shared with anyone you talk to while using these platforms and can even be used to find you. These apps may use end-to-end encryption and other practices to keep your information private, but that doesn’t mean they are. anonymous services.
People you talk to via Signal or Telegram will see the phone number you used to sign up. This could be a problem if you’re a whistleblower, an anonymous source, or someone who just doesn’t want your conversations tied to your real-world phone number.
RELATED: Signal vs. Telegram: Which is the best chat app?
If you already have a main Signal or Telegram account
You should think of these messaging services as an extension of your phone number. So if you already have a primary Signal or Telegram account and want to create an anonymous secondary one, here are some things to consider:
For Signal, only one phone number can be linked to your Signal account, which means you never have to create a password. You will need multiple smartphones to use more than one Signal account at the same time. Alternatively, you can deactivate your account and then switch to a secondary account.
At Signal, switching accounts is inconvenient, as all your conversations will be lost when you do so. Since Signal is focused on security, none of your correspondence is stored in the cloud. There is no way to retrieve messages or media that you have sent or received unless you are transferring from an old device.
Telegram is not that restrictive. Telegram’s desktop and tablet apps allow you to log in with a separate number on a desktop or tablet app. This does not have to be linked to your smartphone or your “real” Telegram number. You can use this to your advantage as you don’t need to leave your primary account to log into a secondary one.
If you’re wondering whether you should use Telegram or Signal for your confidential and anonymous messaging needs, Telegram may be the more convenient option between the two. Just make sure to enable secret chats on Telegram before doing so.
Option 1: use a Burner phone (or SIM)
One of the easiest ways to use a service like Telegram or Signal anonymously is to register with a new phone number. In many cases, you can grab a prepaid “burner” phone or SIM card for very little (sometimes free), which you can use to log in. You don’t need to send any messages using this number, so you don’t need to spend money if you don’t want to.
All the secondary number needs is to receive a message with a code. This code is all you need to log in using any of the services, as your phone number is only used as a means of identifying you.
Signal requires access to this number the first time you log in (to receive a code). You will also need to use your primary device (an iPhone or Android smartphone) to add any paired device that you want to use with your anonymous number. Paired devices may need to be reauthorized from time to time, which will require access to your “burner” SIM, so keep it handy and active.
Telegram works the same way, except that you won’t need to use a smartphone to add paired devices as you can log in directly. Just enter your new “burner” phone number, enter the code you receive, and you’re ready to race.
RELATED: What is a phone burner and when should you use one?
Option 2: use a VoIP service like Google Voice
If you don’t feel like swapping SIM cards to go incognito, consider using a VoIP number instead. google voice is the obvious choice, offering a toll-free US phone number to those residing in the United States. You can also use a service like Skype or any internet phone provider that gives you a number (although you may have to pay for it).
There are a wide variety of other apps that can also provide you with secondary “burner” phone numbers.
Once you have your number, you can register as you normally would. For Signal, this means using a smartphone that is not yet registered with the service or removing the app from your device. On Telegram, you can download the app for the platform you choose and log in.
Option 3: use a landline (signal only)
Signal is primarily designed to be used with a mobile phone number, but you can enter any number you want when registering. This includes landlines, like the one sitting at your desk at work. Unfortunately, during testing, we were unable to activate Telegram with this method (but you may have better luck).
By registering in this way, you will not be able to receive your code in the standard way via SMS. Instead, you can request that Signal call you. When you select this option, Signal should call you through an automatic dialer that says the required code out loud over the phone.
Signal tries to send you a code by SMS when you enter your number. If you wait a minute, you will be able to tap the “I didn’t get a code” button, which will present you with the option “Call me instead.” Touch it, answer the phone and listen to the code. You can then use this code to log in and send messages.
Telegram will also send you a code by SMS, along with a message “Haven’t received the code?” , which does not offer an option to receive a phone call. This may be due to the use of an Australian mobile phone number, so your mileage may vary with this method.
Can’t register a second number on your smartphone?
If you have already registered your personal number with any of the services, you may be surprised to see that there is no option to disconnect from the service. The simplest workaround is to delete the application in question. This will remove local data from your device (including login tokens), forcing you to log in when you download the app again.
In the case of Signal, this will delete all conversations from your device. Since Telegram allows you to log in with a number and the Telegram application for the platform of your choice (including Windows, Mac, and Linux), there is no need to purge your smartphone. Learn how to delete apps on your iPhone or how to delete apps on Android.
If you are a Signal user, you will need to repeat the process to return to your “primary” Signal or Telegram account after authorizing your secondary number.
No guarantee of anonymity
Even if you sign up for a secondary phone number, your real identity may be traced. In some countries, you must provide identification to obtain a SIM card, so your phone provider can know exactly who you are, even if this information is not available to the general public.
The same goes for VoIP services like Google Voice. While Google and Skype will not make information such as your email address and IP address available to anyone, they still keep it on file and could be forced to hand it over to court.
If you want to cover yourself more, Telegram lets you send disappearing messages (and Signal too).