Telegram is no longer open source

Tags: software.
By lucb1e on 2017-02-28 11:19:35 +0100

Telegram for Android is now a closed source application. According to the repository and the Telegram website, it is covered by the GPL license which states one must publish changes. However, since early October 2016, there have been many releases but no updates of the source code. Everyone involved is pretending there is no issue because they have their fingers in their ears:

I've been a big fan of Telegram for being an open source competitor with proper desktop support - even Linux support, for having an open network that anyone can make clients for, and for their continued innovation (starting with replies and bots, and recently themes). It has given the whole chat industry a push. Telegram may have copied lots from WhatApp, but in response, WhatsApp has copied a lot from Telegram. Competition and claims of encryption and security makes everyone live up to a higher standard.

Telegram has been declining though. It has been how many years since the release now? And support has yet to be added to the desktop client for end to end encrypted chats. The original argument was "desktop doesn't have a client-side state, thus we'd be unable to store the encryption keys for a chat. This is a thing which is to be figured out in the future." but years down the road, it sounds a little weak.

And finally, the Android application is no longer open source. There seems to be no advantage to using Telegram over WhatsApp anymore, since WhatsApp has a slightly better encryption protocol (neither is broken, but Axolotl/Signal Protocol has had more analysis and is a little neater) and neither is open source. Telegram is still better in usability, but WhatsApp is now arguably better in terms of privacy, which is an impressive thing to achieve given that WhatsApp is Facebook's.

It's also not as if it's terribly hard to upload source code. Surely they did not tweak the bytecode in the .apk by hand, so it must be in their local repository. All they need do is run the command "git push". I wonder what is holding them back.

Meanwhile I have discovered that Wire exists. I don't know how I missed it, but they have everything Telegram promised to be, most notably end to end encryption enabled on all chats with synchronization between devices - something Telegram says is impossible (something with exchanging keys, I forgot what the argument was exactly but they aren't planning to add it).

Wire has some shortcomings, for example one cannot reply to messages, but it also has big advantages. Proper encryption for starters, but also encrypted calling and video chat. It also has clients for Linux desktops and Android and it's all open source since last July. They also respond to support with satisfactory answers, for example when I emailed them about their profit model.

Another app that was mentioned somewhere is Riot.im, but I have yet to try it out.

It has been a big enough fight to get everyone on Telegram. I have succeeded, at least for my friends and family, but I'm not sure if I will succeed again with a new platform.

It would be great if Telegram can get their shit together (and drop the argument "all our chats are encrypted" with some bullshit about geographically distributing keys over jurisdictions), but I am slowly starting to move away from Telegram. The profit model of Telegram is still "our mysterious benefactor supplies us with infinite money for nothing in return" and they have already betrayed my trust too many times for comfort.

If you want to back up your Telegram messages, either to move away or as a backup, there is a great project on Github to do that (see link below). I've contributed a HTML export module so you can not just view chats as json or plain text, but also in a reasonably neat graphical format. Heads up: when downloading media from the chats, you may be surprised how much data you have stored in Telegram chats, so be sure to have enough disk space and not use mobile data while backing up! (Also note how Telegram stores this for you for "free". This cannot possibly be cheap at this scale.)

Please, Telegram, stick to your values (privacy and security) and promises (open source). Don't be evil.

Wire: wire.com
Telegram backup (unofficial): github.com/tvdstaaij/telegram-history-dump
Telegram for Android on Github: github.com/DrKLO/Telegram
Telegram's open source claim: telegram.org/apps#source-code
lucb1e.com
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