- Personalized ads will be unique for each user based on the data collected about them.
- For personalized ads, Telegram will analyze IP addresses, down to the city, and will analyze users’ interests based on search queries, subscriptions and contacts, and data “collected from other platforms.”
- Personalized ads will also appear in private channels.
- A “list of identification numbers based on the phone numbers of platform users” will also be used for personalized ads.
Users apparently have to subscribe to Telegram Premium to avoid personalized ads and data collection. This indicates a pay-to-privacy model at odds with Telegram’s original ethos.
Implications for User’s Privacy and Surveillance Concerns
- Granular targeting of ads based on sensitive information like searches and contacts
- Monetizing and commercializing private conversations
- Expanded data collection and retention, possibly shared with advertisers
- Requiring paid premium accounts just to opt-out of tracking
- Increased metadata like IPs and phone numbers available for monitoring users
For an app that touted encrypted messaging and anonymized data, these ads-related changes contradict Telegram’s original principles. User trust in the platform’s privacy safeguards seems likely to erode as a result.
Some privacy advocates have recommended avoiding Telegram entirely or only using it with anonymity-enhancing tools like Whonix or Tails to mitigate risks. But Telegram alternatives like Signal offers end-to-end encryption without personalized ads at all. Who knows what’s safe though, maybe we should all move back to the golden IRC days.
Telegram’s journey to the Dark Side?
Telegram has deviated before from its early open-source, privacy-first vision, like removing encryption from group chats and cloud chats in 2020. But enabling personalized ads based on user data is perhaps its most dramatic shift yet.
Founder Pavel Durov originally positioned Telegram as a safer messaging alternative to WhatsApp after distancing himself from VKontakte, Russia’s Facebook equivalent. Now Telegram seems to be gradually embracing a surveillance capitalist business model rivaling Facebook and Google.
With over 500 million monthly active users as of 2021, Telegram has grown into a leading global messaging platform. But this growth may be coming at the cost of the privacy protections that first drew in many users. If the alleged ad-related policy changes come to pass, it could signify Telegram’s transition to the dark side.
What Users Can Do
- Refrain from searching or engaging with sensitive topics on Telegram
- Review Telegram’s privacy settings and turn off any unnecessary data sharing
- Use a VPN or anonymity network like Tor when accessing Telegram
- Switch to more privacy-focused messaging apps like Signal
- Delete Telegram if the alleged changes materialize and undermine personal privacy
The coming days and weeks should reveal whether Telegram is actually implementing the advertised surveillance and monetization model described.
Users concerned about privacy must closely evaluate Telegram’s direction and practices moving forward. If the platform abandons its privacy principles as alleged, migrating to alternatives may become necessary to avoid being engulfed by the dark side.
Article created by Cosimo Miccolis.