Telegram’s Peer-to-Peer Login system is a risky way to save $5 a month

Telegram is offering a new way to earn a premium subscription free of charge: all you have to do is volunteer your phone number to relay one-time passwords (OTP) to other users. This, in fact, sounds like an awful idea — particularly for a messaging service based around privacy.

X user @AssembleDebug spotted details about the new program on the English-language version of a popular Russian-language Telegram information channel. Sure enough, there’s a section in Telegram’s terms of service outlining the new “Peer-to-Peer Login” or P2PL program, which is currently only offered on Android and in certain (unspecified) locations. By opting in to the program, you agree to let Telegram use your phone number to send up to 150 texts with OTPs to other users logging in to their accounts. Every month your number is used to send a minimum number of OTPs, you’ll get a gift code for a one-month premium subscription.

Boy does this sound like a bad idea, starting with the main issue: your phone number is seen by the recipient every time it’s used to send an OTP. And if anything unpleasant happens as a result of this, Telegram’s terms make it clear it’s on you:

Accordingly, you understand and agree that Telegram will not be liable for any inconvenience, harassment or harm resulting from unwanted, unauthorized or illegal actions undertaken by users who became aware of your phone number through P2PL.

Once an OTP has been sent from your number, the recipient might just text you back. People participating in the P2PL program are told not to text the recipients of OTPs, even if they texted first — but there’s no way for Telegram to enforce that, no way to restrict people from replying to the OTP text. This seems like a particularly bad place to employ the honor system.

Telegram says it’s offering this program to make receiving access codes via SMS more reliable in certain areas. A more cynical read might be that the company is trying to avoid fees imposed for sending codes via SMS — a move from the X / Twitter playbook. In fact, Telegram is taking zero responsibility if your carrier charges you a fee for sending access codes.

It’s all pretty uncharacteristic for a company that touts a “revolutionary privacy policy.” Telegram’s global user base has been attracted to the platform as an algorithm-free means of distributing information, both for good and not-so-good. We’ve reached out to Telegram for a comment on this new program and will update this post if we hear back.

Altogether, it seems like an awful lot to risk just to save $5 a month. Our free advice? Steer clear of this offer if you see it.

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