Another week, another privacy-focused messenger.
Briar is another end to end encrypted messenger that I’ve been taking a look at lately. Here’s a little overview of it and my thoughts.
One thing that caught my eye is that Briar is up front about not being for everyone, promoting itself instead as “a messaging app designed for activists, journalists, and anyone else who needs a safe, easy and robust way to communicate”.
I don’t have a lot to say about the app other than it being pretty decent. Haven’t had any issues with it and for the most part it’s easy enough to navigate.
If you read my recent post on Session then the way Briar is designed will sound pretty familiar at first. You get a random ID when you first launch the app which you exchange with someone to add them as a contact. Like Session, Briar uses onion routing but on the Tor network instead of the Oxen network.
Surprisingly, that’s where most of the similarities end. Unlike Session, Briar is purely peer to peer instead of decentralized. This might be good news to people who’d rather not have their messages sitting on a server somewhere (even if they are encrypted), but it also means that if your message recipient is offline then your client will have to keep retrying the message until they come back online.
I was seriously caught off guard by how feature-rich Briar is. It of course does one-on-one and group messages but there’s also forums – semi-private groups with threaded messaging where anyone can be invited by anyone, and blogs – messages that are sent to all contacts. The blogs feature even has a built-in RSS reader that allows you to reblog articles!
Briar even works without an internet connection through local wifi or bluetooth connections. I haven’t had the chance to try that out myself, but I hear it works.
Briar is Android only, at least right now. There’s a beta desktop app in the works but it’s Linux only and not nearly as fully featured as the Android app.
There’s not a way as far as I know to transfer your account to another device. If you get a new device or reinstall the app, you’re starting fresh with a new ID. I guess this could be seen as a positive for security though since there’s no account recovery phrase for you to lose.
Briar is the most compelling hardcore private messenger I’ve tried. Lots of features to the point where it’s not just a messenger, and it’s been reliable. I still stand by something like Matrix or Signal being best for most people but for those who need privacy and anonymity above all else, Briar seems like an excellent option.
Briar Project website
Briar desktop client (had to go hunting for this so I’m linking it here)
Where I talk about Session
Where I talk about XMPP and Matrix