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NEW DELHI : An update to WhatsApp’s terms of service has created unease among users, raising questions about how the messaging platform uses and shares data.

The new terms of service informed users that their data would be shared with its parent company Facebook as well as with business accounts on Whatsapp that a user chooses to interact with. “As part of the Facebook family of companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, this family of companies," the policy said. “We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support and market our services and their offerings."

User reaction to the move on social media was swift and adverse, with many encouraging others to boycott the chat service and also offering up or discussing alternatives.

“The number of people now looking to shift out of WhatsApp to Signal/Telegram is crazy. This could be Signal’s moment. And that’s a good thing. I have two groups (for now) discussing a move. One has moved," Nikhil Pahwa, founder of digital news website Medianama, wrote on Twitter.

Electric car maker Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, was among the first to ask users to move to Signal after the update. The high-profile billionaire’s tweet was retweeted by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and American whistleblower Edward Snowden. Users have moved away from the platform globally in numbers large enough to crash competitor Signal’s servers temporarily.

To be sure, it may still be too early to gauge the impact this change will have on WhatsApp’s user base in India.

Despite widespread criticism on social media, WhatsApp’s download numbers stay ahead of Telegram and Signal. According to data from Sensor Tower, Telegram generated 560,000 downloads from India (on both Android and iOS) on Wednesday and Thursday, while Signal generated only 8,400 downloads. WhatsApp, on the other hand, generated 768,000 downloads on the two days.

On the other hand, Telegram and Signal generated 1.6 million and 17,000 downloads, respectively, between 1 to 6 January in India, on both Android and iOS. Telegram’s downloads increased by 14% over the previous seven days, while Signal’s grew by 79%, on a smaller base. WhatsApp, in turn, generated 2.4 million downloads in the same period, increasing its numbers by 20% compared to the previous seven-day period.

The world’s largest messaging app has over 2 billion users worldwide, including 400 million in India, while Telegram founder Paul Durov said last month that the platform was “approaching" 500 million users globally. Signal’s exact user base is unknown, but the app has over 10 million downloads on Android worldwide.

While it’s unclear how many users have left WhatsApp, the Signal app crashed due to the influx of users. “Verification codes are currently delayed across several providers because so many new people are trying to join Signal right now. We are working with carriers to resolve this as quickly as possible. Hang in there," the company said on Twitter on Thursday. Signal sends verification codes to users in order for them to register.

WhatsApp clarified in a statement that the update to its policy doesn’t change its data-sharing principles.

“We updated the privacy policy to describe that going forward, businesses can choose to receive secure hosting services from our parent company Facebook to help manage their communications with their customers on WhatsApp. Though of course, it remains up to the user whether or not they want to message with a business on WhatsApp. The update does not change WhatsApp’s data-sharing practices with Facebook and does not impact how people communicate privately with friends or family," it said.

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