New WhatsApp Privacy Notice Leads to Surge in Signal, Telegram in India

Concerns over a new privacy policy have led to mass downloads of WhatsApp rivals in the messaging app’s biggest market.

Beejoli Shah

January 13, 2021

New WhatsApp Privacy Notice Leads to Surge in Signal, Telegram in India
App Store page displaying Signal and Telegram (Devanshi Patel)

For Jaydev*, a New Delhi-based technology journalist, one of the first signs that end-to-end encryption messaging app Signal had begun taking off beyond his network of self-described “privacy nerds” was when he saw a flurry of notifications at the start of the year: more of his friends in India had suddenly joined. 

Between January 6 and 10, Signal saw 2.3 million new downloads; its competitor Telegram saw 1.5 million new downloads. At the same time, India’s most popular messaging service, Facebook-owned WhatsApp, with over 400 million users, saw downloads drop 35%, according to data from SensorTower.

On January 4, WhatsApp had begun notifying users in-app that they would have to opt in to a new privacy policy by February 8, 2021, or stop using the app entirely. The privacy policy update, which gives Facebook more access to user data (specifically, registration phone numbers and device-level information), has stoked ire in India. 

Signal quickly became the most downloaded app in Apple’s app store in India, and the third-most downloaded app in the Google Play store in the past week. While this recent uptick marks a change in how the average Indian user has begun viewing their privacy, whether it’s enough to supplant WhatsApp, or Facebook’s growing power in India, is less of a given.