Instant messaging apps Signal, Telegram see spike in demand following WhatsApp’s new privacy policy controversy

Shortly after news broke on instant messaging platform WhatsApp’s controversial new privacy policy terms update, its counterparts Signal and Telegram saw a spike in downloads by users seeking greater privacy.

Under the new privacy policy, Facebook-owned WhatsApp requires users to share their data with the social media platform and its subsidiaries, including their phone number and location. Should they not agree to such a term, users will be blocked from using the end-to-end encrypted chat app.

Around 810,000 users globally installed Signal on 10 January after Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on 7 January to “Use Signal” over WhatsApp due to a change in its privacy terms.

As a result, Signal topped the charts of most downloaded apps in the Apple App Store and Google Play, while Telegram gained about 2.2 million downloads within the last two days, as reported by Reuters.

Signal took to Twitter on 8 January to inform users that it experienced delays in sending out the verification codes due to the influx of interest, saying that it will work with carriers to resolve the delays expeditiously.

“We continue to shatter traffic records and add capacity as more and more people come to terms with how much they dislike Facebook’s new terms. If you weren’t able to create a new group recently, please try again. New servers are ready to serve you,” it said in another tweet on Monday.

What users should know about Signal

Signal is a free, privacy-focused messaging and voice talk app available on Apple and Android smartphones.

The messaging app was created by a small group of privacy activists in 2013.

Moxie Marlinspike, a privacy advocate, founded Open Whisper System in 2013, which developed the Signal encryption protocol.

Fast Company reported that the open-source protocol was adopted for confidential messaging in apps collectively installed by more than 2 billion users. These apps include Open Whisper’s Signal, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Google’s Allo.

It was said that the project has no marketing budget and was never advertised.

Instead, it relies heavily on funds from grants and donations, as well as code contributions from a worldwide community of developers and users.

Signal Foundation had previously received a $50 million donation from WhatsApp founder Brian Acton in 2018, who wanted to be part of the mission to make a truly private messaging service after he left Facebook in 2017, as reported by Mashable SEA.

WhatsApp was bought over by Facebook for $22 billion in 2014.

Acton decided to leave Facebook due to his disagreement over how the social media giant should monetize Whatsapp.

In comparison, Signal has the same functions as WhatsApp which enable users to text, make voice, or video calls with other users, either one-on-one or in groups, and use emoji reactions or stickers.

Despite WhatsApp utilising the same encryption technology as Signal, Facebook gathers information in the form of usage statistics, metadata, and more, without giving users the liberty to opt out other than by deleting the app.

Signal, on the other hand, collects no data on its users except for their phone number. In fact, users are able to set messages to disappear after certain customizable time frames.

Mashable SEA also reported that the company is working on a way to decouple users’ phone number from using Signal by making encrypted contact servers.

As of 2020, Signal runs totally on donations as a non-profit organisation.

 

 

What users should know about Telegram

Telegram was launched in 2013 by brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov who together founded the Russian social network VK.

The app plans to monetise by introduction an app platform, with consideration of adding paid features aimed at enterprise clients.

Durov, CEO of Telegram, slammed the privacy policy update by WhatsApp in a blog post on 9 January.

He wrote, “Millions of people are outraged by the latest change in WhatsApp Terms, which now say users must feed all their private data to Facebook’s ad engine.

“It’s no surprise that the flight of users from WhatsApp to Telegram, already ongoing for a few years, has accelerated,” Durov added.

He also shared that the platform has nearly 500 million users and “growing”.

Durov remarked: “I hear Facebook has an entire department devoted to figuring out why Telegram is so popular. Imagine dozens of employees working on just that full-time.”

“I am happy to save Facebook tens of millions of dollars and give away our secret for free: respect your users,” he quipped.

In what seems to be a jibe at WhatsApp’s privacy policy update, Telegram tweeted a meme of the dancing Ghanaian pallbearers featuring the update.

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