Millions of people flock to Signal and Telegram as WhatsApp scrambles to assuage users’ concerns
“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms. No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp” reads the company’s blogpost.
We will make sure users have plenty of time to review and understand the terms. Rest assured we never planned to delete any accounts based on this and will not do so in the future.
— WhatsApp (@WhatsApp) January 15, 2021
For starters, however, the company is scrambling to address the key concern surrounding the new practices: “This update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook”.
Indeed, the original announcement was met with a backlash, especially due to some unfortunate phrasing that raised questions among users about what kinds of data would be shared with the chat app’s parent company, Facebook.
This also led WhatsApp to explain in its FAQs that the update will not give WhatsApp, or indeed Facebook, the ability to see the contents of messages or listen in on user calls, or keep logs of who users interact with, among other things.
“With these updates, none of that is changing. Instead, the update includes new options people will have to message a business on WhatsApp, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data. While not everyone shops with a business on WhatsApp today, we think that more people will choose to do so in the future and it’s important people are aware of these services. This update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook.”
We want to address some rumors and be 100% clear we continue to protect your private messages with end-to-end encryption. pic.twitter.com/6qDnzQ98MP
— WhatsApp (@WhatsApp) January 12, 2021
The company also clarified that the changes are mainly geared towards how businesses use the app. The changes include optional features such as giving companies the option to use Facebook secure hosting services for WhatsApp chats or allowing customers to interact with businesses through WhatsApp by clicking on Facebook and Instagram ads.
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The confusion surrounding the earlier announcement had some ripple effects, with calls for users to ditch WhatsApp and switch to competitors. Signal, a communication platform lauded for its focus on privacy, became one of the most downloaded apps on both Android and iOS; the influx of new users was so large that it overwhelmed the nonprofit’s servers.
While app-analytics companies are reporting millions of downloads of the popular messaging app, a Signal spokesperson told CNET that the reports are undercounted: “Right now I can say that all those app-analytics firms severely under report numbers from Signal because we don’t have any trackers or analytics like other apps.” The spokesperson also went on to add that Signal doesn’t share its numbers publicly.
Signal is experiencing technical difficulties. We are working hard to restore service as quickly as possible.
— Signal (@signalapp) January 15, 2021
Meanwhile: Telegram, another of WhatsApp’s rivals, also saw an onslaught of new users surpassing the 500 million monthly active users milestone in early January. According to a post by Pavel Durov, one of the messenger’s founders, the service saw 25 million new users register within a span of 72 hours.