Android Apps

Telegram

Introduction

With Facebook trying to push its monetization of WhatsApp, many users are jumping ship to apps like Signal and Telegram. I have both on my phone, but prefer Telegram - it is more feature rich, but the default settings are downright scary and sometimes irritating.

What I hope to do here is to show some of the changes that you should make before you start using the app.

Privacy and Security

Strictly speaking only people you want to find you should be able to find you, not every person on the planet, which the default settings allow. I suggest you change the following parameters until you are more comfortable with what you want known about yourself, and, of course, who should know this. In order to do this, you need to access all the settings of the app. This is done through the hamburger menu on the top left of the home screen, next to the word Telegram.


Fig 1. The opening settings page

Tap on Settings and then Privacy and Security. I suggest for starters, you set up the parameters as shown in Fig 2.


Fig 2. The Privacy and Security settings

Phone number I'm not sure whether it makes a difference, as you have already set your phone number to Nobody, but tap on the words Phone Number, and change Who can find me by my number to My Contacts, as shown in Fig 3.


Fig 3. Phone Number settings

Last Seen & Online; Profile Photos; Calls Set all of these to My Contacts. There is no reason why anyone other than your contacts should see these, or be able to call you.

Forwarded Messages This is a nasty one. If you forward a message you receive to anyone, a link to their contact details is included with whatever is being forwarded, so the receiver of the message can find the details of the person who sent this message to you. As the person who sent the message to you may not be in the address book of the person you are sending the message to, I recommend disabling this.

Groups This is another nasty one. I would rather have no-one be able to add me to a group, but unfortunately, this is not an option. If someone wanted me to join a group, they could send me a message, and I could add an exception if I wanted to join. There are many unsavoury public groups out there and I really do not want anyone adding me to a group without my permission.

People Nearby A final point under privacy, even though it does not fall under the Privacy and Security settings, is People Nearby. This occurs in two places, on the opening settings page and Contacts, both on Fig 1 above. If you allow yourself to be visible with this setting, you can be contacted by anyone close to you. I suggest you leave it such that the option Make myself visible is shown. This means you are not visible to others.


Fig 4. People Nearby

Chat irritations

As the programmers are probably young people, many of the things they regard as cool, such as emoji animations, drive me up the wall. These items are on by default.

Under Settings > Chat Settings, I have switched off the options shown in Fig 5.


Fig 5. Chat settings

Unfortunately, they do not give an option to disable emoji suggestions, nor Stickers and Masks. While under Chat Settings, you may want to change a couple of settings under Stickers and Masks.


Fig 6. Disabling looping of animated stickers and sticker suggestions

Another major irritation in a chat, is that once downloaded, videos keep autoplaying. Switching this off is not trivial, as this has been hidden elsewhere, and not under chat settings as expected. It is under Settings > Data and Storage. The Autoplay media option can be seen in Fig 7


Fig 7. Disabling video autoplay

While on this page, change the storage path to your SD card if you have one. Not having this option is a serious limitation in WhatsApp, especially if your device has limited main storage capacity.

Another thing that can be changed on this page is to disable auto-downloads of items sent to you. I suggest definitely disabling auto-downloads of videos. You get to these options by tapping on the words When using mobile data or When connected on Wi-Fi. Fig 8 shows the disable auto-downloads on wifi screen


Fig 8. Disabling auto-download of videos

Looking back to the bottom of Fig 7, you will see that I have also disabled streaming of audio and video. I'm not sure how important this is, but I would rather decide later when I know what it does.

Other Irritations

  • One thing I really hate about Telegram is that it uses a conversation view on a tablet. This is something Google has been pushing for years, and I have no idea as to why it cannot be disabled. Why can't I see the chat on full screen like on a phone? What makes this worse is that this conversation view is also active in portrait mode. At least Google apps like Gmail don't do this.

    Fig 9. Portrait mode, with Phone on left and Tablet on right showing conversation view
  • When setting up the app, all your contacts are stored somewhere on the cloud so that when one of them joins Telegram, you are notified. This maybe ok for current contacts, but Telegram seems to find deleted contacts as well. Pat had about 50 of them pop up. My worst was having a friend, who had passed away two years ago (who I had deleted from my contacts), suddenly appear as having joined Telegram. The developers need to fix it.
  • Another pretty serious issue I found was when setting up a new phone number. Most of the contacts who had set up their privacy as shown in Fig 2, were not automatically downloaded as Telegram contacts to the new number, when I installed the app (Android contacts specifically). These people were also not automatically spammed with Telegram's "XYZ joined Telegram". Nothing I did, within reason, could get these people to show up. Even Telegram's own workaround did not work (the fact that they have a workaround shows there is a problem).

    The only way I found to fix this issue, was to make myself visible on People Nearby (Fig 4 above). Then have the person I wanted to link to search for me and send me a message. I responded to this message and could then add the person to My Contacts, and the same for the person on the other end. I could then hide myself again. Ironically, once I started filling in the contacts details, they were picked up from the phone's address book.

    This is a very irritating bug.

  • The linux desktop app is a bit irritating as it doesn't have a border, so when it's on top of other programs, it's quite difficult to see where the window ends, and where its decorations are. Also, it's not possible move the app window between different screen desktops.

    Update I have since found that this is due to a setting in the desktop app: Settings > Advanced > Use system window frame. Close the app and restart it.

  • Links from chats in the desktop app do not open the link. A browser window is opened, but not the link.

    Update This is not a problem with Telegram, installed from the Ubuntu repositories, under a fresh Kubuntu installation.

  • Up- and downloads are sometimes horrifically slow. Telegram servers don't seem to be able to handle the throughput with the influx of new users.
  • Video calls are very pixelated at times, and sometimes the voice is also lost, making this means of communication unusable. This is probably related to the throughput mentioned in the last comment.

Comments

  • If you set up your account as I have indicated above, your privacy will be markedly improved.
  • One of the strangest dislikes I see from detractors of Telegram is that chats are stored in the cloud. I fail to see why this should be a problem, as most people store some pretty sensitive information in the cloud anyway, and is that any safer than a chat? Personally, I really like the ability to be able to access my chats on any device linked to my account.
  • Signal or Telegram? When Facebook pushed the privacy changes to Whatsapp in January 2021, more than 60 of my contacts signed up with Telegram - in that same period, on four signed up with Signal (and of those, two were already on Telegram). Also, one needs to remember, that Brian Acton was one of those who sold Whatsapp to Facebook - there is nothing to stop him from selling Signal - that is the American way!

Useful Links

Forbes: Signal and Telegram recommended changes to settings

Nextpit: Telegram tips and tricks

(updated: 1 March 2021)