Signal and Telegram see demand spike as new WhatsApp terms stir privacy debate

The new terms will also allow WhatsApp, which has some two billion users, to roll out advertising and e-commerce. PHOTO: AFP

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA (AGENCIES) - Signal and Telegram messaging apps are seeing a sudden increase in demand after larger rival WhatsApp's updated terms of service raised eyebrows on social media last week.

This is even as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's media office and the country's defence ministry told journalists they are quitting WhatsApp as well, joining the global flight from the popular messaging app over new usage terms that have sparked privacy concerns.

WhatsApp, which uses Signal's encryption technology, laid out fresh terms last Wednesday (Jan 6), asking users to agree to let owner Facebook and its subsidiaries collect user data, including their phone number and location, but not the content of messages which remain encrypted.

The new terms will also allow WhatsApp, which has some two billion users, to roll out advertising and e-commerce.

Facebook aims to monetise WhatsApp by allowing businesses to contact their clients via the platform, even sell them products directly using the service as they already do in India.

In the European Union and Britain, the new terms only allow for the development of functionalities for professional users of WhatsApp Business, a company spokesman told AFP.

The changes to WhatsApp's terms and services are effective Feb 8.

Some privacy activists questioned the "accept our data grab or get out" move on Twitter, and suggested users to switch to apps like Signal and Telegram, Reuters reported.

Signal's popularity shot up further last Thursday after it was endorsed by the world's richest man, technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, who has one of the most-followed accounts on Twitter, and by the micro-blogging site's top boss Jack Dorsey.

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More than 100,000 users installed Signal across the app stores of Apple and Google in the two days after the announcement, while Telegram picked up nearly 2.2 million downloads, according to data analytics firm Sensor Tower.

New installs of WhatsApp fell 11 per cent in the first seven days of 2021 compared with the prior week, but that still amounted to an estimated 10.5 million downloads globally, Sensor Tower said.

Meanwhile, the Turkish presidency said it would move its WhatsApp groups to encrypted messaging app BiP, a unit of Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri AS, on Monday, it told the groups on Saturday. The Defence Ministry followed suit on Sunday, Bloomberg reported.

The Turkey Wealth Fund took a majority stake in Turkcell, the country's biggest mobile phone operator, in 2020.

Turkcell reported about 1 million new users joining BiP Messenger in the past 24 hours, according to a company statement on Sunday. The application has been downloaded more than 53 million times since it was launched in 2013, Turkcell said.

The switch coincides with Mr Erdogan's broader campaign against social-media platforms that activists say is meant to stifle dissent.

The push to monetise WhatsApp more heavily has come at a time when Facebook's revenue growth is near a record low.

While messaging has jumped more than 50 per cent in many of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus, according to the company, those increases have not translated into more advertising dollars because the popular services are not platforms where Facebook has a robust ad business.

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