Neeraj Agrawal, a spokesperson for a cryptocurrency think-tank, usually uses it The encrypted messaging app Signal To chat with privacy-conscious colleagues and peers. So he was surprised on Monday when the app alerted him to two new users: Mom and Dad.
Mr. Agrawal, 32, said, “Signal still has a devastating luster. Now my parents are on them.”
On Telegram, another encrypted messaging app, Gavin McKinnes, The founder of the far-right Proud Boys, has just announced his comeback. On Sunday he wrote, “Oh man, I haven’t been posted here in a while.” “I will post regularly.”
And on Twitter, Elon Musk, the billionaire businessman, last week weighed in with two words: “Use the sign.”
Over the past week, tens of millions of people have downloaded Signal and cable, Which makes them the two best apps in the world. Signal allows messages to be sent using “end-to-end encryption”, which means that only the sender and receiver can read their contents. Telegram offers some encrypted messaging options, but it is very popular in group-based chat rooms where people can discuss a variety of topics.
The sudden jump in popularity was driven by a series of events last week that sparked growing concern about some of the major tech companies and their communication apps, such as WhatsApp, that Facebook owns. Tech companies including Facebook and Twitter have removed thousands of far-right accounts – including President TrumpAfter storming the Capitol. Amazon, Apple, and Google too Cut off support for Parler, a popular social network for Mister Trump fans. In response, conservatives sought new applications through which they could communicate.
Meanwhile, privacy concerns have soared over WhatsApp, which reminded users last week In a popup notification It shares some of its data with its parent company. The notice sparked a wave of anxiety, fueled by a series of viral messages that falsely claimed that Facebook could read WhatsApp messages.
The result has been a mass migration that, if it persists, could weaken the power of Facebook and other big tech companies. On Tuesday, Telegram said it had added more than 25 million users over the past three days, pushing it to more than 500 million users. Signal added nearly 1.3 million users on Monday alone, after averaging just 50,000 downloads per day last year, according to an estimate by Apptopia, an app data company.
“We’ve seen an increase in downloads before,” Telegram CEO Pavel Durov said in a message on the app on Tuesday. “But this time is different.”
WhatsApp spokesperson Carl Woog said that users’ privacy settings have not changed and that rumors about data being shared are largely unfounded.
“What has not changed is that private messages to friends and family, including group chats, will be protected by end-to-end encryption so that we cannot see them,” he said.
The rise of Telegram and Signal can be fueling The Crypto ControversyThis helps protect the privacy of people’s digital communications, but may hinder authorities in criminal investigations because conversations are hidden.
Any move by far-right groups in particular to apps has alarmed US authorities, some of which are trying to track planning for what might become violent rallies on or before the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. next week. .
“The proliferation of encrypted platforms, where law enforcement authorities cannot even monitor speech, are allowing bad-faith groups to plan behind the scenes,” said Louis Griffer, president of the Federation of State Criminal Investigation Agencies.
Repercussions of the Capitol riot
Telegram was especially popular for those on the far right because it mimics social media. So, after Facebook and Twitter restricted Mr Trump on their services last week and other companies started withdrawing their support from Parler, far-right groups on Parler and other marginal social networks posted links to the new Telegram channels and urged people to join them there.
Within four hours after Parler went out of business on Monday, the Proud Boys group on Telegram had gained over 4,000 new followers.
“Don’t trust big technology,” read a post about the Proud Boys on Parler. “We will need to find safer spaces.”
A Florida-based militant group said on Monday it is organizing its conversations in small groups for each city, with each group limited to a few dozen people, according to letters seen by the New York Times. They warned each other not to allow anyone they did not know personally to enter, to avoid law enforcement officials spying on their conversations.
The influx of users to Telegram, which is based in Dubai, and Signal, which is based in Silicon Valley, far exceeds the American far right. Dorov said that 94 percent of the 25 million new Telegram users came from Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa. Data from Apptopia showed that while the US was the number one source for new Signal users, downloads of both apps increased in India, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil and elsewhere.
Concerns about WhatsApp’s privacy policies have led to the popularity of Telegram and Signal. While he was there There is no real change in how WhatsApp handles user dataPeople immediately interpreted the app’s privacy notice last week as meaning that it was sneaking into all kinds of personal information – like personal chat logs and voice calls – and sharing that data with companies.
Soon WhatsApp said that people were wrong and that they could not see anything inside the encrypted chats and calls. But it was too late.
“It seems that the whole world now realizes that Facebook is not creating apps for them, and Facebook is creating apps for their data,” said Moxie Marlinspike, Founder and CEO of Signal. “It took this little trigger to push everyone to the brink of making a change.”
The enthusiasm was so intense that Los Angeles rapper Moses Tasali released a music video for his song on Tuesday,Hit me at the signal. Mr Musk’s endorsement of Signal last week also led to the sending of publicly traded shares to Signal Advance Inc., a small medical device manufacturer, Height From around $ 50 million in market value to over $ 3 billion. (The company has no relationship with the messaging app.)
Some world leaders are urging people to join them on the apps. On Sunday, the Twitter account of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador spoke about his new group on Telegram. By Wednesday, it had nearly 100,000 members.
Apptopia CEO Eli Sapir said that while people’s concerns about Facebook data collection were fair, WhatsApp actually uses encryption more secure than Telegram. “It’s like going from something high in sugar to corn syrup,” he said, adding that Signal was the safest of the three.
Mie Alabi, 18, a student in Ibadan, Nigeria, said she was surprised this week when her mother invited her to join Signal. Her mom downloaded the app at the request of a friend who was worried about WhatsApp.
She said, “I was in shock because she got it before me.” “We usually tell our parents about new apps. Now suddenly we are the ones being notified.”
Mr Agrawal, a cryptocurrency operator, said that his parents have long been active in several group chats on WhatsApp with college friends and relatives in India. He said that they told him that they had joined Signal to follow the many chats that were moving there, because some of the participants were concerned about the new WhatsApp policy.
He said he knows WhatsApp’s policy risks are overrated but a lot of the public doesn’t understand how their data is handled.
“They hear those main things – data sharing, Facebook, privacy, and that’s enough for them to say, I have to get rid of this,” said Mr. Agrawal.