2021 is giving us a dazzling start to the year and in the field of messaging we have two clear winners: Telegram and Signal. WhatsApp’s rivals that promise greater privacy have had a huge boost, caused by several events that they probably did not expect.
The tweet that almost collapsed Signal
Following the new conditions of WhatsApp, Elon Musk published a tweet that simply said “use Signal”. The influence of the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is well known: that tweet caused an avalanche of requests and Signal had to warn that it could not send the verification codes because “many new people are trying to join”.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 7, 2021
For those who were still in doubt, Edward Snowden retaliated by recommending Elon again to use Signal, explaining that he uses it every day. Since then, Signal is very active in social networks trying to take advantage of the momentum generated. Recently the application has extended the limit of calls from 5 to 8 people and has reset the verification codes.
In the week of January 6-10, Signal has seen some 7.5 million new installations, between Google Play and the AppStore, according to Sensor Tower data. This represents a 4.200% more than the first week of the year. This does not mean that these new Signal users will stop using WhatsApp, but it does show a desire to explore the possibility of communicating in new ways.
WhatsApp changes in privacy
The news appeared on January 6th. Six years after WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook, the messaging app will finally share WhatsApp users’ data with Facebook. The changes will take effect on February 8th.
Many users understood this change as a risk to their privacy. Signal and Telegram, two of the applications that benefited from the announcement, explain that they are “more secure and private”. What does this mean? Mainly that they do not associate data to the user.
All three messaging applications have encrypted conversations, so a priori they are equally secure, but the difference is that both Signal and Telegram do not share data with third parties. Signal does not store any records of your contacts, your conversation list, your location, photo and profile name, or information about the groups you belong to.
To reaffirm the privacy of WhatsApp, from the messaging app have issued a statement on social networks where they explain that from WhatsApp can not read your messages or share the location. Also, contacts are not shared with Facebook and it is possible to download all our data.
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
Telegram exceeds 500 million users
The growth of Telegram has been constant during the last few years, but it has been the controversies that have triggered its use in a timely manner. In the last three days, Telegram has added 25 million new users and reached 500 million users globally, according to Pavel Durov, Telegram’s CEO. To give you an idea, this represents a quarter of WhatsApp users.
Taking advantage of the controversy with the changes, Durov explained that “people no longer want to exchange their privacy for free services. They no longer want to be held hostage by technology monopolies that seem to think they can get away with it as long as their applications have a critical mass of users.
He adds that “unlike other popular applications, Telegram has no shareholders or advertisers to inform. We don’t do deals with marketing specialists, data miners or government agencies. Since the day we launched in August 2013, we have not disclosed a single byte of our users’ private data to third parties”.
Telegram explains that of the new users, 38% are from Asia, 27% from Europe, 21% from Latin America and 8% from the Middle East and Africa.
The search for new communication channels
The tops of the most popular AppStore and Google Play applications leave no room for doubt: Signal and Telegram are the hottest apps from early 2021. The millions of users who have downloaded them contrast with an 11% drop in WhatsApp installations during the first week of 2021 compared to the previous week. Even so, this represents more than 10 million downloads for WhatsApp, according to data from Sensor Tower.
With these numbers, it is hard to believe that the messaging application landscape will change dramatically. However, the tendency to look for new communication channels, far from the big technological corporations, seems to be increasingly strong.
This position of using applications that are not in the hands of large companies such as Facebook, Twitter or Google is also that adopted by the ultra-right-wing movements, which, following the blockade of Trump, are moving into secondary channels. Whatever the case, it’s always good news to have differentiated and healthy options.