Encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram are seeing a huge increase in downloads from Apple and Google app stores, while WhatsApp is seeing its growth decline after the company was forced to clarify a privacy update recently sent to users.
Signal saw 17.8 million app downloads on Apple and Google during the week of January 5 to 12 – a 61-fold increase from 285,000 the previous week, according to mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower.
Telegram saw 15.7 million downloads in the January 5 to 12 period, roughly twice the 7.6 million downloads it saw the previous week, according to Sensor Tower.
Meanwhile, WhatsApp saw downloads shrink to 10.6 million, down from 12.7 million the week before.
Experts believe the shift may reflect a rush of conservative social media users seeking alternatives to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Parler.
The mainstream sites suspended US President Donald Trump last week and have tightened enforcement on violent incitement and hate speech.
Parler was removed from the internet after Apple and Google banned it from their app stores for failing to moderate incitement. Amazon then cut Parler off from its cloud-hosting service.
Experts worry that these moves could lead to more ideological splintering and further hide extremism in the dark corners of the internet, making it harder to track and counteract.
The notice referenced the data WhatsApp shares with Facebook, which while not entirely new, may have struck some users that way.
Confusion about the notice, complicated by Facebook’s history of privacy mishaps, forced WhatsApp to clarify its update to users this week.
The company said that its update “does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way”, adding that the policy changes were necessary to allow users to message businesses on WhatsApp.
The notice “provides further transparency about how we collect and use data”, the company added.
WhatsApp is still by far the most popular messaging app of the three, and so far there is no evidence of a mass exodus.
Sensor Tower estimates that Signal has been installed about 58.6 million times globally since 2014. In that same period, Telegram has seen about 755.2 million installations and WhatsApp 5.6 billion — almost eight times as many as Telegram.