WhatsApp loses millions of users after terms update

A poorly-explained update to its terms of service has pushed WhatsApp users to adopt alternative services such as Signal and Telegram in their millions.

The exodus was so large that WhatsApp has been forced to delay the implementation of the new terms, which had been slated for 8 February, and run a damage limitation campaign to explain to users the changes they were making.

Over the first three weeks of January, Signal has gained 7.5 million users globally, according to figures shared by the UK parliament’s Home Affairs committee, and Telegram has gained 25 million.

In both cases, the increase appears to have come at WhatsApp’s expense. Data tracked by analytics firm App Annie shows WhatsApp falling from the 8th most downloaded app in the UK at the beginning of the month to the 23rd by 12 January. By contrast, Signal wasn’t even in the top 1,000 apps in the UK on 6 January, yet by 9 January it was the most downloaded app in the country.

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Niamh Sweeney – WhatsApp’s director of public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa – told the Home Affairs committee that it believed the exodus was to do with the update to the company’s terms of service. That update, she said, was intended to do two things: enable a new set of features around business messaging, and “make clarifications and provide greater transparency” around the company’s pre-existing policies.

“There are no changes to our data sharing with Facebook anywhere in the world,” Sweeney added.

But after viral posts – ironically, widely spread on WhatsApp – claimed that the privacy policy instead gave the service the right to read users’ messages and hand the information over to parent company Facebook, WhatsApp announced a delay in the implementation of the new terms of service. “We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way,” WhatsApp said in an update posted to its site, which it is paying to advertise on Google under searches for “WhatsApp privacy policy”. The company will, it says, delay the implementation of its new policy until 15 May.

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