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Signal and Telegram downloads surge amid WhatsApp row

WhatsApp move to appoint a grievance officer for India partially fulfils the demands of the Indian government to curb the spread of rumours. Photo: ReutersPremium
WhatsApp move to appoint a grievance officer for India partially fulfils the demands of the Indian government to curb the spread of rumours. Photo: Reuters

Instant messaging apps Signal and Telegram have racked up almost 4 million downloads in India since WhatsApp changed its terms and conditions—still a fraction of their Facebook-owned rival’s numbers but indicating a growing awareness of privacy and profiling issues

Instant messaging apps Signal and Telegram have racked up almost 4 million downloads in India since WhatsApp changed its terms and conditions—still a fraction of their Facebook-owned rival’s numbers but indicating a growing awareness of privacy and profiling issues.

According to data from Sensor Tower, Signal is the big winner so far with 2.3 million new downloads between 6 and 10 January. Telegram had 1.5 million new downloads in the same period.

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Signal was downloaded only 24,000 times between 1 and 5 January, which makes the growth over the subsequent five days a jaw-dropping 9,483%. Telegram’s was a more steady 15% growth from 1.3 million downloads.

WhatsApp’s downloads fell 35% in the same period, from 2 million to 1.3 million.

Lifetime downloads (since 2014) in India 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.

The figures came to light as Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma criticized WhatsApp on Twitter on Monday. “They say, market has power. We are the largest market. Here in India WhatsApp / Facebook are abusing their monopoly & taking away millions of users’ privacy for granted. We should move on to @signalapp NOW. It is up to us to become victim or reject such moves," Sharma said. The world’s largest instant messaging app updated its terms of service on 6 January, informing users that information from interactions with businesses will be shared with Facebook and companies it owns, and the businesses themselves.

Both Telegram and Signal took the opportunity to promote their platforms and criticize Facebook for profiling users for ad targeting. “Facebook is probably more comfortable selling ads than buying them, but they’ll do what they have to do in order to be the top result when some people search for ‘Signal’ in the App Store...There will never be ads in Signal, because your data belongs in your hands not ours," Signal said.

Telegram founder Pavel Durov also promised that the messaging app will never collect users’ private data or profile them for ad targeting. Durov said if Telegram ever chose to advertise, it will do so through one-to-many channels, which do not require user profiling.

WhatsApp said on Tuesday that it cannot read or see private messages or listen to users’ calls, doesn’t keep logs of whom users are messaging, and it doesn’t share users’ contacts or location with Facebook.

“The switch is led by a tiny section of WhatsApp users—the privacy-conscious online user—but is amplified by the many WhatsApp groups these users are part of," said tech policy analyst, Prasanto K. Roy.

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