WhatsApp Privacy Policy Changes Cause Surge in Installation of Rival Apps

Person using WhatsApp

WhatsApp is experiencing a mass exodus to its rivals over changes in its Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. As of next month, WhatsApp’s updated Privacy Policy requires users to share their private information not just with Facebook. They will have to share it with other Facebook companies as well.

Surge in Signal Installs

Facebook-owned WhatsApp has recently received a huge backlash from its 2 billion plus users. This occurred after it told users that they needed to share private information with other Facebook subsidiaries if they wished to continue using WhatsApp. This is despite the fact that Facebook is currently facing twin antitrust lawsuits insisting Facebook sell WhatsApp.

The change spurred Elon Musk, who has one of the most followed accounts on Twitter, to send out a tweet. He urged users to switch to Signal, causing Signal installs to shoot up. Signal is an encrypted messaging app and a rival to the much larger WhatsApp. When Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, retweeted Musk’s tweet, Signal installs shot up even further. So much so that Signal’s service crashed temporarily.

“Verification codes are currently delayed across several providers because so many new people are trying to join Signal right now (we can barely register our excitement),” the non‑profit foundation tweeted. “We are working with carriers to resolve this as quickly as possible. Hang in there,” it said.

According to data from research firm Apptopia, some 810,000 people globally installed Signal on Sunday. This constitutes an 18-fold increase compared to download numbers on 6 January, the day WhatsApp updated its Privacy Policy. On Sunday, WhatsApp saw a 7% decline in daily installs compared to the previous Wednesday. By 10 January, Signal had been downloaded by nearly 1.2 million users.

Other Messaging Apps

Telegram messaging app is also seeing a sudden increase in demand. According to data analytics firm Sensor Tower, Telegram has picked up nearly 2.2 million installs in the last two days.

Microsoft has also put in a recommendation and have urged WhatsApp users to download their messaging app, Skype, instead. Skype tweeted: “Skype respects your privacy. We are committed to keeping your personal data private and do not sell to 3rd parties.”

For a list of messaging apps we recommend as alternatives to WhatsApp, please refer to our article WhatsApp Alternatives: The Safest Options.

What are the Changes in WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy?

For WhatsApp users outside the EU there has been a significant change to WhatsApp’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. The changes have set alarm bells ringing amongst the social media community.

Non-EU WhatsApp users

From 8 February 2021, non-EU WhatsApp users will need to share personal information not only with Facebook but also its subsidiaries if they want to keep using the app. The WhatsApp Privacy Policy was updated last week, and it states: “As part of the Facebook Companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, the other Facebook Companies.” It goes on to say: “We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings, including the Facebook Company Products.”

One such “improvement” in the WhatsApp service would be the sending of targeted advertising to users. As always, however, there are two sides to any story. For businesses who use WhatsApp, integrating Facebook and WhatsApp means a simpler messaging and customer service system.

EU WhatsApp users

WhatsApp users in the EU will see no changes to the WhatsApp Privacy Policy or Terms of Service. WhatsApp’s Director of Policy for the EMEA region, Niamh Sweeney, tweeted “There are no changes to WhatsApp’s data-sharing practices in Europe arising from this update. It remains the case that WhatsApp does not share European Region WhatsApp user data with Facebook for the purpose of Facebook using this data to improve its products or ads.”

Data to be Shared with Facebook Subsidiaries

Private WhatsApp data that will be shared with other Facebook companies includes personal information such as name and phone number. Also shared will be contacts and how WhatsApp users interact with their contacts, but not specific message details.

Specific mobile device information like IP address, MAC address, model number, operating system and network carrier will also be passed on. Even location data could be shared with other Facebook companies if users have opted-in to sharing location information with WhatsApp.

Moreover, any users that make purchases through WhatsApp will also have payment and transaction data shared, as well as shipping addresses and money spent.

However, in a statement to Sky News a spokesperson for WhatsApp explained that the changes to the Privacy Policy and Terms of Service only apply to business communications. “The update does not change WhatsApp’s data sharing practices with Facebook and does not impact how people communicate privately with friends or family wherever they are in the world,” explained the spokesperson. However, this is not what has been understood by readers of the Privacy Policy.

Information technology expert
Grace is an information technology expert who joined the VPNoverview team in 2019, writing cybersecurity and internet privacy-based news articles. Due to her IT background in legal firms, these subjects have always been of great interest to her.