WhatsApp’s growth nosedives, while Signal and Telegram thrive

The backlash against WhatsApp's notice about users having to accept a new privacy policy has led to a sharp increase in downloads of its rivals, Signal and Telegram

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WhatsApp has clarified that its recent notice to update does not affect the privacy of its users in any way

Encrypted messaging apps, Signal and Telegram are seeing huge upticks in downloads from Apple and Google app stores.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp, by contrast, is seeing a decline in its growth following a recent fiasco that forced the company to clarify a privacy update it had sent to users. Mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower said on Wednesday that Signal saw 17.8 million app downloads on Apple and Google during the week of January 5 to January 12. This works out to be a significant 61-fold increase from just 285,000 downloads the previous week.

Also read: Embedded in WhatsApp’s new privacy policy is a competition issue

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Telegram, an already-popular messaging app for people around the world, saw 15.7 million downloads in the January 5 to January 12 period, roughly twice the 7.6 million downloads it saw the previous week. WhatsApp, meanwhile, saw downloads shrink to 10.6 million, down from 12.7 million the week before.

Experts believe the shift may reflect the rush of conservative social media users seeking alternatives to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and the now-shuttered right-wing site Parler. The mainstream sites suspended President Donald Trump last week and have tightened enforcement on violent incitement and hate speech.

Parler, meanwhile, has been unceremoniously booted from the internet after Apple and Google banned it from their app stores for failing to moderate incitement. Amazon, then cut Parler off from its cloud-hosting service. Experts worry that these moves could lead to more ideological splintering and further hide extremism in the dark corners of the internet, making it harder to track and counteract.

Also read: WhatsApp’s policy changes under govt scanner amid privacy concerns

WhatsApp did not do itself any favour, when it recently told users that if they don’t accept a new privacy policy by February 8, they’ll be cut off. The notice referenced the data WhatsApp shares with Facebook, which while not entirely new, may have struck some users that way.

Confusion about the notice, complicated by Facebook’s history of privacy mishaps, forced WhatsApp to clarify its update to users this week. The company said that its update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way, adding that the policy changes were necessary to allow users to message businesses on WhatsApp. The notice provides further transparency about how we collect and use data, the company said.

Though Signal and Telegram have racked up their download numbers, it is still a fraction of the number WhatsApp enjoys. In India, since 2014, lifetime downloads stood at 3.9 million for Signal and 151.5 million for Telegram, while WhatsApp has a whopping 1.4 billion downloads from India in the same period.


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