WhatsApp growth slumps as rivals Signal, Telegram rise

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA (AP) — Encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram are seeing huge upticks in downloads from Apple and Google’s app stores. Facebook-owned WhatsApp, by contrast, is seeing its growth decline following a fiasco that forced the company to clarify a privacy update it sent to users.

Mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower said on Wednesday Signal saw 17.8 million app downloads on Apple and Google during the week of January 5 to 12. That is a 61-fold increase from just 285,000 the previous week. Telegram saw 15.7 million downloads in the January 5 to 12 period, roughly twice the 7.6 million downloads it saw the previous week.

WhatsApp, meanwhile, saw downloads shrink to 10.6 million, down from 12.7 million the
week before.

Experts believe the shift may reflect a rush of conservative social media users seeking alternatives to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and the now-shuttered right-wing site Parler. The mainstream sites suspended United States (US) President Donald Trump last week and tightened enforcement on violent incitement and hate speech.

Parler, meanwhile, was booted from the Internet after Apple and Google banned it from their app stores for failing to moderate incitement. Amazon cut Parler off from its its cloud-hosting service. Experts worry these moves could lead to more ideological splintering and further hide extremism in the dark corners of the Internet.

WhatsApp did not do itself any favours when it recently told users that if they do not accept a new privacy policy by February 8, they will be cut off. The notice referenced the data WhatsApp shares with Facebook.

Confusion about the notice, complicated by Facebook’s history of privacy mishaps, forced WhatsApp to clarify its update. The company said its update “does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way”, adding that the policy changes were necessary to allow users to message businesses on WhatsApp.

File photo shows the WhatsApp app on a smartphone. PHOTO: AP