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Last week, nearly 2 billion people around the world who use WhatsApp, Facebook’s instant messaging service, were greeted with a giant popup when the app launched.
If users do not agree to these new terms, they will be excluded from WhatsApp on February 8th.
The game was fast online. “Use Signal,” tweeted Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, to his 42 million followers, referring to the open source WhatsApp alternative, which is popular with people who deal with sensitive information such as journalists and activists. “I use [Signal] every day and I’m not dead yet, ”tweeted the American whistleblower Edward Snowden. In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s media office and the country’s Ministry of Defense announced they were dropping WhatsApp following the policy changes and opened an investigation into the move.
Signal became the best free app in the Google and Apple app stores in most countries around the world. In the week of Jan. 4, more than 8,800,000 people downloaded Signal on iPhones and Android phones, compared to just 246,000 the week before, according to data analytics firm Sensor Tower. Telegram, another WhatsApp alternative, announced Tuesday that more than 25 million people have joined in the past 72 hours.
📈 More than 5 million people downloaded #Signal this weekend after @elonmusk and @Snowden tweeted about it. 😱 pr #privacy #whatsapp Our report 👉 https://t.co/qgRqvJ6940
3:48 p.m. – January 12, 2021
“I was concerned about my privacy,” J. Paul, a Mumbai marketing professional who could only be identified by the initials of his first name, told BuzzFeed News. “Facebook monetizes its products in a way that is invasive to users.”
Besides Facebook itself, WhatsApp is Facebook’s largest and most popular service. In markets like Brazil and India, the app is the standard communication method for hundreds of millions of people. So far, Facebook, which paid $ 22 billion to acquire it in 2014, has kept the company largely independent and not attempted to make money from it. It changes.
“We’re still committed to the privacy and security of people’s private messages,” a WhatsApp spokesman told BuzzFeed News, offering a link to a page the company set up earlier this week to explain the new policy . “The best way to maintain end-to-end encryption over the long term is to have a business model that protects people’s private communications.”
The page states that WhatsApp believes that messaging with businesses is different from messaging with friends and family, and that it is breaking down data that the business may share with Facebook in the future.
“If, sooner or later, you’ve spent $ 22 billion buying something, shareholders want you to monetize that asset,” Mishi Choudhary, a New York-based technology lawyer and online civil liberty activist, told BuzzFeed News.
WhatsApp, started by two former Yahoo employees, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, originally charged people a dollar a year. After Facebook used the app for free, growth exploded. For the first few years after purchasing the app in 2014, Facebook largely left WhatsApp alone. In 2018, WhatsApp Business was launched, which allows companies to use WhatsApp to communicate with customers. For the first time, Facebook wanted WhatsApp to generate revenue.
Over the past year WhatsApp has added more business-related features such as: B. Flight tickets and purchase receipts, catalogs and payments. According to WhatsApp, there are more than 50 million companies on the platform and more than 175 million people send messages to a company on the app every day.
“I don’t trust Facebook,” said Paul. He recently deactivated his Facebook account despite still using Instagram and WhatsApp. “I have to be there, but I don’t trust him,” he said.
Trust in WhatsApp has waned since Facebook bought it. Koum defended selling the app to Facebook in a 2014 blog post, stating that the company was not interested in people’s personal information. “If partnering with Facebook had meant changing our values, we wouldn’t have,” he wrote. However, two years later WhatsApp announced it would share some data, including phone numbers, and the last time people used the service with Facebook – a move the European Union fined € 110 million.
In response, Facebook is going on a magic offensive. In India, the company’s largest market with more than 400 million users, the company put full-page advertisements on the front pages of major national newspapers to make it clear that people’s private messages could not be seen or their calls tapped. “Respect for your privacy is in our DNA,” said WhatsApps ad, repeating a line from Koum’s 2014 blog post.
Top Facebook executives, like the head of Instagram and Facebook’s virtual reality head, tweeted in support of the app.
“It is important that we are aware that this update describes business communications and does not change WhatsApp’s data exchange practices with Facebook,” he wrote. “It doesn’t affect how people communicate privately with friends or family, wherever they are in the world.”
Cathcart did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Despite the outcry, WhatsApp could be difficult to drop in places like India. Paul, the marketing pro from Mumbai, said he would use the app until he asked everyone he knew to switch to Signal.
“It’s not an easy sale,” he said, “because WhatsApp is so convenient.”