Element (formerly known as Riot) is the flagship free software messenger for the Matrix protocol and associated federated network. Element supports the most features of any Matrix client, including voice and video calling. However, Element also introduces some minor ethical pitfalls in the form of anti-features.
Free Software: Free (as in freedom, not price) software puts the user in control by allowing you to use the software for any purpose, modify it, and redistribute it. This also implies that you can examine the source code and see what it does and how it works. This represents a baseline requirement for recommendation in this guide.
End-to-End Encryption (E2EE): Allows two or more end-points to communicate confidentially, such that no one in the middle (including the service operator) has access to the contents of the communication. This represents a baseline requirement for recommendation in this guide.
E2EE is optional in Element and can be enabled on a per-conversation basis.
Decentralized: Decentralized systems lack a central authority or gatekeeper. Decentralized systems are more resilient and resistent to censorship and commercial takeover.
The Matrix network is federated, meaning many servers (“home-servers”) participate in the network as peers. You can choose to use an existing Matrix server, or host your own, much like email.
Supports Interoperability: Interoperability increases freedom and usefulness by allowing different systems to work together. When a service is hostile to other services interoperating, particularly a communication service, this places users in a walled garden, which limits choice and can make it difficult to switch to or from an alternative.
Matrix excels at interoperating with other chat protocols via “bridging.”
Allows Alternative Clients: Does not require the use of sanctioned software clients with the provided service. This means that if the official client contains anti-features, for example, you can easily avoid them by using an alternative.
Because Matrix is an open standard, there is a wide array of available Matrix clients to choose from and anyone with technical know-how can make their own.
Does Not Limit Metadata: Metadata is "data about data." In the context of communication, metadata could represent information about who sent or received a message and at what date and time.
The Matrix protocol, which Element relies on, is not designed to conceal message metadata (such as sender, recipient, payload size). Conversation metadata is replicated across all home-servers participating in a given chat room.
Allows Anonymous or Pseudonymous Use: Does not require revealing personally identifiable information (PII) in order to communicate.
You may register a Matrix account through Element with an arbitrary username. Registration of an email address and phone number is optional.
Contains Anti-Features: An anti-feature is a feature of a program that prioritizes the interests of some party other than the user of the program—often those of the program’s developer. In many cases, the feature actively works against the interests of the user, for example by artificially limiting the functionality of the program or subjecting the user to surveillance.
Element contains advertisements for a SaaSS product as well as optionally sending information about your usage of the program to the developers (so-called telemetry). The telemetry can easily be avoided, as it is opt-in only.