News & AnalysisNewsletterSecurity

Will Users Shun WhatsApp for Signal, Telegram?


A section of the industry is reacting adversely to WhatsApp’s recent announcement of tweaking its privacy policy that allows deeper and more granular access of its users’ data to parent Facebook. In less than a week, several users – including traders, investors, analysts, media personnel and even end users – have been flocking to other messaging apps – the trending topic is now a choice between Signal and Telegram.

Are users going to shun WhatsApp for smaller rivals like Signal, Telegram and others or whether the public outcry will eventually die – maybe it’s a little early to say. But it’s also true that WhatsApp’s brawl over its updated privacy policy has generated storms and this can make a dent in WhatsApp India’s 400 million user base, albeit a slight dent or for a short period. Moreover, it may have an impact on the brand image and trust, the cornerstones of brand success (As such Facebook has found itself in the middle of controversies in recent months).

Surge in Signal, telegram users

Globally too, rival messaging apps Signal and Telegram are seeing huge upticks in downloads from Apple and Google’s app stores, following endorsements from the likes of Tesla CEO Elon Musk and former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

As per the report of Sensor Tower, an app-analytics company, Signal saw 17.8 million app downloads on Apple and Google. That’s a 61-fold increase from just 285,000 the previous week. Telegram also saw 15.7 million downloads in the January 5-12 period, roughly twice the 7.6 million downloads it saw the previous week.

WhatsApp, by contrast, saw downloads shrink to 10.6 million, down from 12.7 million the week before and is forced to clarify a privacy update it had sent to users.

In a recent blog post Telegram’s CEO and Founder Pavel Durov says, “This is a significant increase compared to last year, when 1.5M new users signed up every day. We’ve had surges of downloads before, throughout our 7-year history of protecting user privacy. But this time is different.

“People no longer want to exchange their privacy for free services. They no longer want to be held hostage by tech monopolies that seem to think they can get away with anything as long as their apps have a critical mass of users,” he adds.

WhatsApp – By far the most popular 

There’s however no doubt that WhatsApp is still by far the most popular messaging app of the three, and so far there’s no evidence of a mass exodus. As Sajai Singh, Partner, J Sagar Associates, defends WhatsApp, “Of its 400 Million Indian users, how many are going to discontinue using WhatsApp because of their metadata may be shared in certain situations by WhatsApp? I believe a very small percentage. And, of the people reacting to Elon Musk’s tweet to move to Signal; there may be a shift to Signal, iMessage and Telegram. We have to remember that unlike other messaging rivals, Facebook is a for-profit enterprise. Can it, therefore, be faulted for trying to provide its consumers, partners and shareholders more value?” he says.

According to Singh, all messaging apps are competing for the same consumer, and, therefore, privacy and security would be the last things any would compromise on. If security and privacy are still of concern to an individual, I would recommend moving away from free apps and using paid apps, like Threema.

Needless to say, from office and family group chats to delivery updates from businesses, much of India’s daily life plays out on WhatsApp. The app’s biggest strength is that it has built huge networks over time. Soumen Kayal, a social media strategist remarks, “Much like India’s biometric program Aadhaar, which has become an inseparable tool for almost all government schemes and other initiatives despite its many privacy issues, WhatsApp, with all its flaws, will likely to remain a mainstay for Indians.”

A feeling of let down

Still, many feel let down about WhatsApp’s impending move. Mahindra Group top boss Anand Mahindra announced to his 8.3 million Twitter followers that he had installed Signal. Paytm founder and billionaire Vijay Shekhar Sharma urged users to leave WhatsApp for encrypted messaging platform Signal over mounting privacy concerns.

“They say, market has power. We are the largest market. Here in India WhatsApp / Facebook are abusing their monopoly & taking away millions of users’ privacy for granted. We should move on to @signalapp NOW. It is up to us to become victim or reject such moves.” Sharma tweeted.

Even the head of a regulatory body has warmed up to the messaging app. A number of other CEOs of small firms have reportedly shifted allegiance to rival messaging App Telegram last week. And many more deep-pocketed players are in the pipeline.

“Trust is critical for organizations to succeed in this digital world. That’s because consumers overwhelmingly prefer to transact with organizations with a trusted demeanor,” says Ranganath Sadasiva, Director – Enterprise Solutions, IDC India.

“As competition between digital services becomes more intense and global in nature, advocacy through word of mouth can be a strong differentiator for the organization and a shot in the arm for the brand,” he mentions in a report on brand trust.

So, WhatsApp may have clarified that the new norm affect only business account users and critics may indicate that Signal and Telegram will also go the WhatsApp way, but clearly corporate India will keep its options open for good. After all, in the tech universe, disruption is the name of the game!

Leave a Response

Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at