Securing messaging app Signal is reportedly seeing a huge rise in the number of people installing its app, as people seek alternatives to WhatsApp.

According to data from research firm Apptopia and reported on by Reuters, roughly 810,000 users around the world installed Signal on Sunday. This is nearly 18 times the amount compared with the download numbers on 6 January, the day when WhatsApp updated its privacy terms.

Concern spiked last week, when WhatsApp notified users around the world it would share data with its owner Facebook as a condition of its use going forward. Users began receiving messages asking them to agree to new terms of service and privacy policies.

Compulsory change

What makes this so concerning for many, is that the changes are compulsory and are due to take effect in a month’s time, on 8 February.

Users will not be able to continue using WhatsApp if they don’t agree to the new terms and conditions.

WhatsApp last week told Silicon UK that are no changes to WhatsApp’s data sharing practices in the European region (including UK) arising from the updated terms of service and privacy policy.

That said, Silicon UK staff have received messages from WhatsApp, asking for agreement to new terms and conditions.

“For the avoidance of any doubt, it is still the case that WhatsApp does not share European region WhatsApp user data with Facebook for the purpose of Facebook using this data to improve its products or advertisements,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told Silicon UK last week.

Silicon UK has asked WhatsApp to confirm these new terms and conditions for a UK citizen will not actually change data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook, from what was agreed in 2016.

Worldwide users

But what is clear is that WhatsApp’s ultimatum on the issue with no middle ground for users in the rest of the world, and this is not going down well with users, and has even led some including Elon Musk to call for users to use Signal instead.

It should be remembered back in 2016, WhatsApp gave its European users a one-time option to opt-out of data sharing with its parent company, but unfortunately, users don’t seem to have that option this time around.

Indeed, such was the controversy that Facebook in November 2016 had to suspend data sharing between its social network and WhatsApp across the European Union.

That same month WhatsApp also suspended such data sharing activity in the UK.

Whilst European and UK users may be exempt from these data sharing changes because of regulations such as GDPR, it seems likely that users in the rest of the world face the prospect of WhatsApp sharing data with Facebook.

But what type of data are we talking about?

This data can include account details, as well as any metadata associated with a user’s chats, their financial transactions (over WhatsApp Pay for example), and even data the app automatically collects such as user log reports, device and network details, and the user’s approximate location.

That said, it should be noted that WhatsApp chats and calls are still end-to-end encrypted, meaning that neither Facebook nor WhatsApp can directly access a person’s messages.

But this associated metadata is valuable for advertising purposes. For example, if the metadata shows that British person regularly calls or messages someone living in South Africa, then this can be used to delivered targetted services or adverts to the user, for example flights to South Africa or other such bespoke services.

Unlikely change?

It remains to be seen whether there will be a notable swing away from WhatsApp, to rivals such as Telegram or Signal.

But Signal reportedly said on Sunday that in order to cope with the number of new users, it had added more servers to handle the traffic.

Signal has until now traditionally being used by journalists and human rights activists looking for a more secure and encrypted mode of communication.

WhatsApp reportedly witnessed a 7 percent decline in daily installs on Sunday compared with Wednesday, and was downloaded by nearly 1.2 million users on 10 January, Apptopia was reported by Reuters as saying.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

View Comments

  • Signal itself is also very intrusive - wants your phone number, access to contacts etc. basically seems as bad as the rest of them for security and privacy - Just installed it and have now uninstalled it - privacy risk!

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