Wednesday 23 June 2021
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Signal sees unprecedented growth, riding promotions by Musk, Dorsey

Signal was downloaded by 17.8 million users over the past seven days, a 62-fold rise from the prior week, according to data from Sensor Tower

Launched in 2014 and yet failing to create a buzz so far, messaging application (app) Signal has seen “unprecedented” growth following a controversial change in rival WhatsApp’s privacy terms. It is now looking to hire more staff as it seeks to bolster the service and supporting infrastructure, the head of its controlling foundation said on 13 January.

The sudden popularity of Signal, industry observers say, owes to the short promotional tweet by billionaire Elon Musk. The tech mogul took to Twitter last week to slam Facebook over its latest privacy policy updates for its supposedly secure encrypted messaging app WhatsApp. Musk instead recommended users choose encrypted messaging app Signal.

The tweet was then retweeted by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Shortly after, Signal tweeted that it was working to handle the surge of new users.

However, given Twitter’s high-handedness in dealing with the handle of outgoing US President Donald Trump, anti-left people fear the promotion by Dorsey implies Signal is going to be the next medium to muzzle free speech.

Another reason for Dorsey’s endorsement could be the fact that he does not share a comfortable relationship with Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg, as he has admitted on record in the past.

Along with another encrypted app, Telegram, Signal has been the main beneficiary of online outrage around the changes announced last week, which require WhatsApp users to share their data with both Facebook and Instagram.

Telegram said on 13 January it had surpassed 500 million active users globally.

However, Signal won’t replace WhatsApp, the cofounder of both apps predicted. The two apps have different purposes, Brian Acton told a tech website on Tuesday. Acton is the executive chairman of the Signal Foundation, which he had co-founded after leaving WhatsApp in 2017.

Acton had co-founded WhatsApp too and then sold it to Facebook for $ 22 billion in 2014.

Acton refused to give equivalent data for Signal but said that the expansion in recent days had been “vertical”.

“We’ve seen unprecedented growth this past week,” Acton said in an email to Reuters. “It’s safe to say that because of this record growth, we’re even more interested in finding talented people.”

He said Signal was working to improve its video and group chat functions, allowing it to compete better with WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams, and other conferencing apps that have become vital to day-to-day life over the past year.

Signal was downloaded by 17.8 million users over the past seven days, a 62-fold rise from the prior week, according to data from Sensor Tower. WhatsApp was downloaded by 10.6 million users during the same period, a 17% decline.

Privacy advocates have jumped on the WhatsApp changes, pointing to what they say is Facebook’s poor track record of supporting consumers’ interests when handling their data, with many suggesting users migrate to other platforms.

The non-profit Signal Foundation based in Silicon Valley, which currently oversees the app, was launched in February 2018 with Acton providing initial funding of $50 million.

It has existed on donations since, with Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk among supporters, and Acton said there were no plans to seek different sources of funding.

“Millions of people value privacy enough to sustain it, and we’re trying to demonstrate that there is an alternative to the ad-based business models that exploit user privacy,” Acton said, adding donations were “pouring in”.

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