WhatsApp's ranking in India's overall top apps list slipped to 23rd by January 10 from eighth place on January 4. Photo: AFP

Messaging platform WhatsApp’s proposed move to share data with its parent company Facebook has created a stir in India – its largest market with a user base of about 400 million. Rival platforms such as Telegram and Signal have witnessed a surge in downloads from users in India.

Interestingly, WhatsApp later announced that it will delay its new privacy policy by a few months, moving its implementation from February 8 to May 15. To counter the backlash it had also issued full-page advertisements in leading newspapers reiterating its commitment toward user privacy. “Every private message, photo, video, voice message, and document you send to your friends, family, and co-workers in one-on-one or group chats is protected by end-to-end encryption,” the advertisement stated. “It stays between you.”

Mobile data and analytics platform App Annie says both Signal and Telegram have gained significantly in terms of rankings based on app downloads. On January 4, Signal did not even figure among the top 1,000 apps, but nearly a week later on January 10 it was ranked sixth. Telegram moved to the 15th position, up from 21.

Meanwhile, WhatsApp downloads in India saw a decline of 35% to 1.3 million from 5.2 million during the same period. Its ranking in the overall top apps list slipped to 23rd by January 10, from eighth place on January 4.

Signal’s executive chairman Brian Acton said the recent surge in downloads has shown that privacy is of the utmost importance to users. “To see India make such a strong stand, in favor of data-privacy and a new more privacy-oriented messenger, speaks volumes. We are now continuing to scale infrastructure and are all hands on deck, so as to handle this incredible growth,” he told India Today magazine. He stressed that Signal users own their personal data. “There are no ads, no trackers, and no analytics,” he added.

Acton said that Signal was leading on the iOS App store in over 70 countries and the Android App Store in over 50 countries. He claimed that by Monday Signal crossed 50 million downloads on Android.

Acton was a co-founder of WhatsApp but parted ways with it after it was sold to Facebook. Founded in 2018, Signal Foundation is a non-profit organization. Recent endorsements for Signal by Tesla tycoon Elon Musk, US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden and other public figures also contributed to its surge in popularity.

Meanwhile, Telegram also announced that its active users crossed 500 million and between January 9 and 12 it had added 25 million new users. Telegram founder Pavel Durov said in a blog that 38% of the new users are in Asia.

He wrote, “Telegram will begin to generate revenue, starting next year. We will do it in accordance with our values and the pledges we have made over the last seven years… All the features that are currently free will stay free. We will add some new features for business teams or power users. Some of these features will require more resources and will be paid for by these premium users.”

Apart from Signal and Telegram, Indian software services firm Zoho is also testing a messaging app called Arattai (in the Tamil language it means chat) and promises that user data will be safe and that the platform will offer a host of features on par with WhatsApp’s.