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The End of WhatsApp’s Reign?

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“Use Signal.” With one tweet and two words, Tesla CEO and billionaire Elon Musk managed to capture the essence of the rapid migration away from the social media giant WhatsApp and towards alternative messaging apps. But what was it that prompted this mass exodus from the favorite mobile application of millions around the globe? 

It all began when WhatsApp notified users that they had to agree to its new privacy policy by February 8. Among the terms of this policy, users in areas outside the EU and the UK must connect their WhatsApp account to their Facebook account. This means that Facebook will receive the user’s personal data, such as their phone number, IP address, and browser information, among other things.

Ever since Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014, there have been many attempts to merge the two platforms to make the best of their advertising potential. Since 98.5% of Facebook’s total revenue in 2019 was derived from advertising, there’s little question about how vital it is to Facebook’s business model. Facebook could use personal data from WhatsApp to send users more targeted advertisements and could also allow businesses on Facebook to connect with users on WhatsApp.

After the announcement, many allegations were made regarding the motivation behind this change. Some even suggested that this would allow Facebook to read users’ chats — however, it should be noted that end-to-end encryption will keep chats secure in any case. Given Facebook’s extremely poor track record with handling user data, though, the storm that followed this announcement was warranted.  

In the week from 5 January to 12 January, WhatsApp registered a decrease of 2 million downloads compared to the previous week. What’s more is that WhatsApp’s leading rivals, Signal and Telegram noted a drastic uptick in downloads in that same time period. According to Sensor Tower, Signal was downloaded only 246,000 times all over the world in the week before WhatsApp’s announcement, and 8.8 million times the week after. Meanwhile, Telegram went from 6.5 million downloads in the week before WhatsApp’s announcement to 11 million the week after. In a funny twist of events, Musk’s tweet actually sent the stock price of Signal Advance soaring by over 6000%. Unfortunately, Signal Advance has nothing to do with the messaging app Signal. 

Related:  A new legal framework for the digital world: will the EU policy be effective?

Given the massive backlash, WhatsApp decided to postpone the date for agreeing to the privacy policy to May 15. Whether this will be enough to save the falling popularity of the giant is yet to be seen, but there is no doubt that WhatsApp’s once-timid competitors have now edged into the spotlight. 

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I'm a third-year student in the BIG program from Lahore, Pakistan. I enjoy learning about and discussing politics, history, and religion, and particularly the interactions between the three.

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