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WhatsApp’s privacy policy pushes users to rivals


JANUARY 8, 2021

Chennai: Privacy conscious smartphone users are opting for Telegram and Signal messaging apps to chat and communicate as the most popular messaging app, WhatsApp, has explicitly mentioned sharing data with parent company Facebook.

Downloads of Signal app have seen a 79% increase from India during the period January 1 to 6 compared to Dec 26 to 31, data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower showed. Telegram, though more popular in India, only saw a marginal increase during the six-day period compared to the week before that. Telegram’s download ranking on Google Play, however, steadily rose over the past few days, Sensor Tower said.

The downloads of Signal were likely fuelled by Elon Musk and whistleblower Edward Snowden’s endorsement on Twitter. Users flocked to the app so much so that Signal’s server could not handle the requests for phone number verifications of new accounts. “Verification codes are currently delayed across several providers because so many new people are trying to join Signal right now (we can barely register our excitement). We are working with carriers to resolve this as quickly as possible. Hang in there,” Signal app tweeted Thursday.

Social media was abuzz on Friday with people declaring they were going to move to Telegram or Signal, and such discussions also dominated WhatsApp groups.

“I am part of a WhatsApp group with friends where we discuss a lot of politics, and we are apprehensive about how our conversations will be mined by Facebook and are thinking of moving to Telegram,” Mohan R, a working professional based in Chennai, said.

WhatsApp alerted users to a new privacy policy effective February 8, that expressly says that WhatsApp will share user data with its parent company Facebook. Users earlier had an opt-out option, which won’t be available now.

Prabhu Ram, head of industry intelligence at CyberMedia Research said users’ sentiment around use of their data by tech majors is changing. “Monetizing private user data without providing them a choice is contentious…It is no longer just the evolved and aware tech user who is concerned about data privacy and usage, but also others,” he said.

The choice of an alternate app depends on where most of one’s social circle already is and how conscious about privacy users are, analysts said.

Telegram holds an edge for Indian users as the app already has a substantial adoption in India, and has a large use case for sharing exam preparation materials, movies, and other media.

Among the two [Signal and Telegram], I see Telegram benefiting more for its awareness and its channel feature through which people are increasingly consuming content, Faisal Kawoosa, founder of techARC, said. “Among Indian apps, we have JioChat and Hike, but they haven’t been able to make much of a mark,” he said.

Telegram is just approaching 500 million active users globally compared to 400 million+ Indians on WhatsApp. Signal’s total user base is not known.

Given mass use in India, analysts also said that WhatsApp is here to stay, and it would take a lot for people to shift their social circles to a new app.

WhatsApp clarified in a statement that the update does not change its data sharing practices in any way, and “does not impact how people communicate privately with friends or family wherever they are in the world.”

Courtesy/Source: TOI