A smartphone equipped with the increasingly popular Telegram messaging app. Photo: AFP

Messaging app Telegram seems to have benefited the most in January from the public backlash against the proposed changes in privacy policy by the market leader WhatsApp.

According to the analytics firm Sensor Tower, Telegram was the top downloaded non-gaming app in January, while its rival Signal was in the third position and WhatsApp came fifth.

The blog stated that Telegram was installed 63 million times in January, 3.8 times the number of downloads in the same period last year. India tops the list with 24% of downloads (over 15 million), followed by Indonesia (10% or 6.3 million).

While Telegram was the top downloaded app among the Android users, it was fourth among iOS users. In December 2020, Telegram was not even part of the top five downloaded applications.

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. It has evoked serious concern among the users, who are now looking for more secure alternatives such as Telegram and Signal.

Following the backlash, WhatsApp had put off its new privacy policy launch date to May 15 from February 8. It had recently issued full-page advertisements in leading Indian newspapers reiterating its commitment to user privacy.

A study by CyberMedia Research of eight Indian cities found that an overwhelming 79% of users are reconsidering using WhatsApp, while 28% are planning to leave the platform once the new privacy norms kick in. Nearly 51% of respondents said they would minimize their use of WhatsApp and might move to other apps such as Telegram and Signal.

Nearly 49% were angry with the WhatsApp’s proposed policy, while 45% said they will never trust the platform again and 35% felt the new move was a breach of trust. The study covered 1,500 WhatsApp users drawn from India’s top eight cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Pune.

Signal’s executive chairman Brian Acton recently said the recent surge in downloads has shown that privacy is of the utmost importance to users. He had assured that Signal users own their personal data and that there are no ads, trackers or analytics.

India concerned

Even the Indian government has expressed concern and urged the Facebook-owned platform to reconsider its decision. It has also sent a detailed questionnaire to WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart in this regard.

New Delhi is concerned about users being forced to follow the proposed norms or leave. The other concern is that WhatsApp has adopted a lenient approach toward European users with regard to privacy updates. The government has sought details regarding the difference between WhatsApp privacy policies in India and other countries.