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Message App 'Signal' claims huge subscriber response in India

Message App Signal claims huge subscriber response in India

New Delhi: Messaging App 'Signal' has witnessed a phenomenal rise in its user base in India, as concerns have been rising about the dominant WhatsApp revising its data transfer policies.

Signal co-founder Brian Acton said the messaging platform is hoping to take advantage of its "simple and straightforward" terms of service and privacy policy.

Signal, a non-profit, has seen millions of downloads globally after WhatsApp revised its privacy policy that included a controversial change of linking data of WhatsApp users to Facebook's other products and services.

Acton remarked that the Indian market has "completely exceeded all expectations" and the growth in the past few days has forced the company to add capacity to meet the surging response.

"And the growth is just amazing, it's been so fast in the last 72 hours that not too many of us have gotten very much sleep. That's a good problem," Acton said.

While he did not disclose details of the number of users or the increase in the last few days, Acton said Signal - which has less than 50 employees - has been topping the iOS App Store in 40 countries and is number one in 18 countries on Google Play.

"On both of those systems you can look at our download rates, over 10 million downloads, we've really seen a tremendous amount of usage and growth in the last three-four days. And really, we're not seeing it stop," he said.

Acton, who had co-founded WhatsApp in 2009 with Jan Koum, had quit the company following disagreement over how Facebook should monetise WhatsApp. In 2014, he co-founded Signal with Moxie Marlinspike.

Signal is a cross-platform end-to-end encrypted messaging service that allows users to have one-on-one conversations and group chats.

While revising its user data transfer policy, WhatsApp had also stated that unless users agree to its new terms and policy by February 8, 2021 their accouint would be disabled. The announcement kicked a series of exchanges on WhatsApp's commercial intent through monetising data with its owner Facebook.

The trend also was reflected in users switching to other platforms Telegram and Signal.

WhatsApp, on its part, has sought to allay user fears by releasing clarifications and advertisement to the effect that saying that Whatsapp's policies remain unchanged regarding personal data and end-to-end encryption, and that what has changed is limited to 'changes related to messageing a buiness on WhasApp, which is optional".

WhatsApp has put out similar content indicating damage control in a blogpost too.

WhatsApp, with over 40 crore users in India, relies on the Indian market as a mainstay.

On Wednesday, WhatsApp brought out full page ads in leading dailies explaining what has changed with the latest update as part of the outreach, and what has not, the latter again emphasisng the former. .

Signal's Acton termed Facebook's update as "complicated" and said "it's really hard for an average user to parse it out, and understand what exactly they are doing and wanting to do, why they're doing it".

"I think when people think about their conversations, they want a very simple and straightforward terms of service and privacy policy, Signal gives them that. Signal presents a very straightforward product, privacy preserving, no advertising, no user tracking and your data is your own," he said.

Acton further said the platform has also been pleasantly surprised by response from high-profile users and corporate leaders in India, including Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma and Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra.

Addressing possible monetising concerns for future, Acton also clarified that as a non-profit entity Signal works on on donations from individuals, corporate donors and grants, similar to the Wikipedia model.

Emphasising the private nature of the platform, the executive said it only has information on three aspects - the account itself, account creation date, and the last date and time of login.

"Everything else is either encrypted or it's not stored," he said adding that the company is open to engaging with the government and policy makers to discuss various aspects of data protection and privacy.

Acton acknowledged that the recent spike in user addition may taper in the coming days as the controversy around WhatsApp cools down, but added that the entire episode has put the spotlight back on the importance of privacy and security of user data.

"I think in the short term, people will have WhatsApp and Signal, side by side. They'll learn about the differences, they'll see how we compete with each other. In the long term, it's a debate whether there will be an emergent winner, and you know that's going to require a lot of hard work and effort on our part," he said.

Acton reiterated the firm's commitment to privacy and to the simplicity of its terms of service for its users.

(PTI feed with minor edits)

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TAGS:Signal Whatsapp User data transfer 
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