If you’ve recently ditched WhatsApp for Telegram in a bid to protect your chat privacy, you’ll probably want to know how to delete conversations from both your device and Telegram’s servers. This isn’t quite as straightforward as you may think.
Understanding How Telegram Stores Your Chats
There are two main types of chats on Telegram: cloud chats and secret chats. Cloud chats exist between you and other Telegram users (including public groups or channels) and are not end-to-end encrypted. Secret chats are never uploaded to a server and are end-to-end encrypted between the sender and the recipient.
Telegram states that cloud chats are “stored heavily encrypted and the encryption keys in each case are stored in several other data centers in different jurisdictions” in a bid to protect your privacy. Without end-to-end encryption (where only the sender and the recipient can decrypt messages), your chats can potentially be intercepted, even if they’re encrypted on a server or in an app.
In addition to this, cloud chats are (as the name implies) stored in the cloud. This makes it easy for you to use Telegram on different devices, since you can easily download conversations and message history.
Deleting Messages from Telegram
As of Telegram 5.5 (released in March of 2019), anyone can delete a message from a one-on-one chat from all devices. This includes both messages that you’ve sent and messages that you’ve received. There are no time limits, and the message will be deleted from all devices, including the Telegram server.
Cloud chats with multiple participants work differently. You can only delete messages that you’ve sent from everyone’s devices within 48 hours of sending them. After this, you can still delete a message, but it will remain on both the server and the recipients’ devices. If the recipients also delete the message, then it’s gone forever.
To delete a message, tap and hold it, then choose Delete.
You can then choose between “Delete for me” and “Delete for everyone,” or whoever it is you’re talking to.
One slightly confusing caveat that’s worth noting is this: If you or a recipient is somehow using a version of Telegram prior to 5.5 in a one-on-one chat, then you’re limited to the same 48-hour window and rules that currently exist for cloud chats.
If you want to erase all copies of such a message from Telegram’s servers—even the recipient’s copy—you’ll need to ask the recipient of the message to delete it on their device, too.
To delete the entire conversation, swipe right on it in the conversations list and choose Delete. You’ll be asked whether you want to delete messages on your end or for the entire conversation.
Don’t Forget About Push Notifications
Being able to delete a message from a recipient’s device sounds like a godsend akin to Gmail’s unsend feature, but it’s not quite the silver bullet that many users wish it was. The reason for this is that push notifications are handled differently.
If you send a message to a friend that has push notifications enabled for Telegram (a messaging app isn’t much use without them), your message will still appear in their notifications. Most mobile devices delete notifications once they’ve been tapped, but most still contain the bulk of an incoming message.
So while no record of your message will appear in Telegram, a user could take a screenshot of their incoming notifications and store the message indefinitely.
How to Delete Everything You’ve Ever Sent
Want to delete everything you’ve ever sent? For a nuclear option, you can delete your entire Telegram account. But if you’ve sent sensitive messages containing private data to anyone, you may need to ask them to delete their copies of those messages from their account to ensure that all copies are purged from Telegram’s servers.
Want Privacy? Use Secret Chats
Cloud chats are convenient, and for mundane chats about what you’re having for dinner, they pose little threat. If you’re serious about protecting your privacy, however, you should use Telegram’s private chats. To do this, tap on a recipient’s name at the top of a conversation, tap More, and then choose Start Secret Chat.