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India leading Signal growth amid WhatsApp exodus, always been ahead of tech curve, says COO

Signal's chief executive officer tells ThePrint about the kind of growth it's seeing amid the privacy concerns over WhatsApp, and why its platform is drawing more attention.

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New Delhi: India has been downloading the Signal messenger app more than any other country in the world as the Facebook-owned WhatsApp sees an exodus of users amid privacy concerns over user data.

“We have recently become India’s most popular app and are also trending as no. 1 on Apple (in 70 countries) and Android (in 35 countries) … Undoubtedly, India is currently leading our growth, with people adopting Signal in record numbers,” said the app’s Chief Operating Officer Aruna Harder in an email interview with ThePrint.

Harder, though, did not share specific numbers about how many India users have the app.

India is both WhatsApp and Facebook’s largest user base. However, since WhatsApp notified users last week of a policy change that kicks in next month, concerns about how much data will be shared with Facebook has led to users quitting the app and moving to other messaging platforms.

What has primarily been driving users away is that they will have to agree to the policy change if they wish to continue using WhatsApp. This is unlike previous updates that gave them the option to not share information with Facebook.


Also read: Not just Signal and Telegram, more apps offer ‘true privacy’ as WhatsApp popularity wanes


Looking for more ‘secure’ pastures

Two apps have become the prominent alternatives to WhatsApp across the world — Signal and Telegram. Of the two, Signal has been showing a higher growth rate.

Data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower shows that Signal was downloaded 2.3 million times between 6 and 10 January in India. Contrast that to the period between 1 and 5 January, when downloads were just 24,000.

“As a country, India has always been ahead of the curve at adopting the best technology,” Harder said.

“The tweets from millions of new Signal users, with big voices like Anand Mahindra among them, is just really amazing. We recently read that Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma, PhonePe co-founder Sameer Nigam and Cred founder Kunal Shah have also begun using Signal,” she added.

When asked about WhatsApp’s latest policy change, Harder said, “We all know Facebook’s revenue model is powered by mining its users’ data, so this update to WhatsApp terms of service was only a matter of time. Maybe it is even surprising they waited this long to make this move.”


Also read: With Parler out of the game, many apps claiming ‘free speech’ for users vie for its place


Why Signal is drawing attention

One reason why users seem to be flocking to Signal is because the app doesn’t link any data to the user unlike Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp, which links data such as ‘purchases’ and ‘usage data’ to user profiles, according to Forbes.

“You don’t need to mine user data to run an app,” pointed out Harder.

“Unlike other tech companies, we understand that user data doesn’t belong to us,” she added and said Signal’s policy is to keep no data and to never serve any ads.

“We don’t want to know anything, not who you talk to, or how many messages you send, not even what your profile picture looks like.”

The key difference seems to be that unlike WhatsApp, that was acquired by Facebook, a company that is largely driven by the ads it feeds its users, Signal doesn’t depend on ad monetisation.

The app is currently backed by the Signal Foundation, an independent non-profit organisation. “It’s not tied to any major tech companies, and it can never be acquired by one either. Development is supported by grants and donations (much like the way Wikipedia is run),” explained Harder.

“Our founders believe that the best way to continue to ensure the universal availability of high-security and free communication service — like Signal — is to do so through a foundation structure that is free of the inherent limitations of a for-profit company.”


Also read: Privacy policy update won’t change data sharing practices with Facebook — WhatsApp head


 

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1 COMMENT

  1. Mozilla is also a non-profit foundation. But Mozill earns 80% of its revenues from Google under the agreement that default search is redirected to Google. Signal might go the same way as well

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