Messaging application Signal became the most downloaded app on Apple App Store on Monday days after Facebook-owned WhatsApp updated its privacy terms.
WhatsApp seeks the right to share user data like location and phone number with Facebook and Instagram as part of the new privacy terms. The terms have triggered a backlash and migration of users to platforms such as Telegram and Signal amid concerns about Facebook’s poor record of handling user data.
Signal was one of the most downloaded apps on Google Play Store globally on Monday and was ranked third with at least 10 million installations. It was the highest-ranked on App Store even as the number of downloads was unavailable. WhatsApp was in the third position on Apple App Store and did not feature among the top 10 apps on Google Play Store.
Internet Freedom Foundation Trustee Apar Gupta called Signal a better alternative as it does not gather any data linked to users. “WhatsApp gathers metadata such as locations we share, our display pictures, who we message and when we message,” said Gupta. “We do not know how much data is stored and collected by WhatsApp, who is it being sold to and how are we being targeted with different kinds of ads. This is the core distinction between Signal and WhatsApp.”
Raman Chima, Asia Pacific policy director at Access Now, said Facebook promised to keep WhatsApp separate when it acquired the app. “Then, they [Facebook] said they would start transferring data, such as the number of users, contacts, who we regularly message. In the European Union, the European Commission fined Facebook for lying and suppressing a material fact. Facebook paid the fine and acknowledged that it had indeed suppressed information about data sharing.”
Chima said metadata, one’s activity on WhatsApp with respect to messaging and contacting, may result in profiling for third-party services, allowing them to target selected people. “They are doing all of this without the informed consent of the users.”
Unlike WhatsApp, Signal is decentralised, does not store metadata, or have advertising interests. Signal’s encryption protocol and software design are also available openly for researchers, making it trustworthy, experts say.
In a tweet, Signal cited the advantages it has over WhatsApp. “Facebook is probably more comfortable selling ads than buying them, but they’ll do what they have to do in order to be the top result when some people search for ‘Signal’ in the App Store. P.S. There will never be ads in Signal, because your data belongs in your hands, not ours”.
WhatsApp has given users until February 8 to accept the policy. It is also working to launch its own payments service.
In a tweet, WhatsApp said, “We want to address some rumours and be 100% clear we continue to protect your private messages with end-to-end encryption.”
Union Information technology ministry officials said that they were monitoring the developments.
The government is formulating a personal data protection bill, which is currently under review of a parliamentary panel. The bill proposes to disallow companies from storing users’ data abroad.
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