Signal and Telegram take advantage of the WhatsApp setback … can they end their reign?

WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal logos along with other applications on a mobile phone.

WhatsApp continues to fight to prevent the flight of users from its platform, after it announced on January 4 a change in the terms of use of the application that not only has generated serious concerns about privacy but has also caused the massive download of others Rival messaging apps like Telegram and Signal.

Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and first fortune in the world according to Forbes, did not help stop the crisis for the company by writing a tweet on Twitter for three days where you could read: “Use Signal.” Although surely not all his followers, who amount to 42.4 million, followed his advice, a week later Signal went from 10 to 50 million downloads as published by the platform on Twitter.

Also the same week Telegram reached another record by increasing by 25 million users in just 72 hours, and claimed that it has already exceeded 500 million active users.

With these data in hand, the question that many people ask is whether what is happening makes sense and if they can end Signal or Telegram with the reign of WhatsApp, which adds some 2,000 million users.

Experts say that many users interpreted WhatsApp’s new policies as assuming that the company would share data with its parent company (Facebook) for the first time, including the content of the messages, causing great outrage. So much so that WhatsApp has been forced to clarify that the change “does not affect the privacy of the messages in any way” and to delay from February 8 to May 15 the entry into force of the new terms of service.

While none of the applications will be able to access the messages, The integration of data between WhatsApp and Facebook started in 2016, to improve the user experience with Facebook products and advertising, but then it gave the option to unlink the exchange of data for advertising purposes in the settings.

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According to the latest update, Facebook and WhatsApp will now also be able to share certain payment and transaction data to drive advertising, as the company moves into ecommerce. The changes also include “the possibility that the information you generate or the relationships you establish on WhatsApp be used to trigger related ads on Facebook or Instagram,” Enrique Dans, a professor at IE Business School, points out on his page.

The EU, an exception

From Facua it is clarified that the new WhatsApp privacy policy does not introduce major changes for European users. Thus, in the European version of its new policies, the company explains that it shares information with Facebook, but indicates that “it cannot be used for the purposes of Facebook companies”, such as advertising, due to the application of the General Regulation of EU Data Protection (GDPR).

Despite this, 27% of the 25 million new users gained by Telegram come from Europe, which shows that many of the unaffected are also against the changes. “It is very positive that when one of these alerts appears, we at least consider what is happening when using an application”, says César Córcoles, professor at the UOC’s Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications Studies.

And, as this expert explains, “the fact that we are not affected by the change in conditions does not mean that WhatsApp does not collect data from its users, including Europeans. I had already been doing it and that will continue to be the same. In fact, WhatsApp collects more data than Telegram, and this in turn more than Signal ”.

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That users increasingly value the fact of not having to give up their data to be able to use an application implies that platforms that have access to more data may lose users in favor of othersAccording to Córcoles and his colleague at the UOC, Professor Pierre Bourdin. Both highlight some factors that can make the user choose one or the other app: “It is key to see how each platform earns money; the sources of their income will allow us to guide us about how much respect they have for privacy. It is also important to know who is behind it ”.

“On Telegram it is a Russian tycoon named Pavel Dúrov; in other cases they are large companies like Facebook, and there are also applications like Signal, which have different associations related to the defense of freedom ”, Bourdin points out.

But, as Dans points out, the powerful network effect that every messaging application has (huge in WhatsApp), does not make it easy to grab the door and leave. “It will not be easy for the user; for his movement to make sense, he will have to convince the people with whom he communicates regularly to stop looking for him on WhatsApp, or to think that he is there listening in the corresponding group, and to accompany him to the new platform of his choice ”, he says this expert.

Different proposals for the same use

Data. All apps Messaging companies need data from their users, the difference is in how many and which of them they access and what use they make of them, according to the UOC professors. “None of the three have access to the content of the messages we exchange, because they use very secure cryptography protocols, but they do know that you cross messages with your mother, your partner or with a co-worker, and in the case of WhatsApp, too they can access other data, such as your approximate location, ”says César Córcoles.

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Monetize. Telegram is bigger than Signal. According to Enrique Dans, its creator, the Russian Pave Durov (who left the country and renounced Russian citizenship), has financed the platform so far with his own funds, but wants to start monetizing it, “apparently through some type of advertising on its channels multi-user, which, according to the company, will be friendly and respectful of privacy ”. Telegram has secret chats that do not leave a trace on the servers, allow the self-destruction of messages and do not have the option of forwarding.

Foundation. Signal was founded in 2013 by Moxie Marlinspike, creator of the encryption protocol used by WhatsApp or Skype, among others, and is considered one of the most secure messaging applications on the market. In 2018, it was incorporated as a company thanks to the financial support of WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, who left this company due to discrepancies with Facebook on the privacy model. Signal, which is controlled by the Signal Foundation, a non-profit foundation, does not store metadata of who the messages are sent to. In addition, it is open source, which allows discovering possible vulnerabilities much faster.