Why are WhatsApp users joining rival platforms?

Changes to privacy terms by WhatsApp has caused an exodus of users to rivals Telegram and Signal.

WhatsApp and Facebook messenger icons are seen on an iPhone in Manchester , Britain.
WhatsApp wants to share user data with its parent company Facebook [File: Phil Noble/Reuters]

WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned messaging service that has more than two billion users, has recently announced controversial changes to its privacy terms, prompting a mass exodus of users to rival platforms, particularly Telegram and Signal.

Users outside Europe who do not accept the new conditions before February 8 will be cut off from the messaging app.

WhatsApp says the changes will help it better integrate with Facebook, but technology experts and privacy advocates have raised concerns about data safety.

Here are four things to know about the issue:

What is the new WhatsApp privacy policy like?

According to the new terms, WhatsApp reserves the right to share user data, including location and phone number, with its parent company Facebook Inc and other apps owned by the social networking giant – Instagram and Messenger.

The data sharing was optional until now, but after February 8 it will become mandatory. Tech experts say the move is aimed at monetising WhatsApp.

Why it is causing flight of users?

Many users are wary of the move as Facebook has a poor track record in handling user data.

Some privacy activists called on WhatsApp users on Twitter to switch to apps such as Signal and Telegram, questioning the “accept our data grab or get out” move.

Pavel Durov, the Russia-born founder of Telegram, said: “People no longer want to exchange their privacy for free services”.

Which are the other rival apps benefiting?

More than 100,000 users installed Signal across the app stores of Apple and Google in the last two days, while Telegram picked up nearly 2.2 million downloads, according to data analytics firm Sensor Tower.

New installs of WhatsApp fell 11 percent in the first seven days of 2021 compared with the prior week, but that still amounted to an estimated 10.5 million downloads globally, Sensor Tower said.

Both Telegram and Signal are encrypted messaging apps, which ensures better privacy. They do not allow outsiders or the platform itself to see the content of the messages.

What is WhatsApp doing about it?

The company tried to reassure users by saying in a blog post that WhatsApp cannot see their private messages or hear their calls, and neither can Facebook.

“We don’t keep logs of who everyone is messaging or calling. We can’t see your shared location and neither can Facebook,” it added.

Location data along with message contents is encrypted end-to-end, according to WhatsApp.

But other metadata such as call records, location, financial information etc may be shared if you are using WhatsApp.

“We’re giving businesses the option to use secure hosting services from Facebook to manage WhatsApp chats with their customers, answer questions, and send helpful information like purchase receipts,” WhatsApp said in the post.

“Whether you communicate with a business by phone, email, or WhatsApp, it can see what you’re saying and may use that information for its own marketing purposes, which may include advertising on Facebook.”

Source: News Agencies