When Musk, Snowden, and WhatsApp Want You to Get Signal

Ariel Ariel
2 minute read Jan. 12, 10:29 AM ET

Last week WhatsApp updated its terms, requiring that users of the chat app share their private data with WhatsApp's parent company, Facebook. The rub, users who don't accept the new terms, will be locked out of their WhatsApp account.

Needless to say, many users weren't happy and took to social media to complain and look for alternatives.

Elon Musk's and Ed Snowden's Suggestions

Notorious twitterer Elon Musk offered his suggestion:

And in case you weren't sure, Edward Snowden clarified:

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And Then Came the Downloads

Downloads of Signal, the privacy-focused alternative which Musk and Snowden pointed to, on the App Store and Google Play started to rise following the tweets.

Downloads of Signal on the App Store and Google Play

Pre-tweets, Signal averaged 25K downloads a day. Since the tweets, Signal rose in the App Store and on Google Play, where it's now the #1 app in many countries and in the top 10 in most others.

Between Thursday and Sunday, Signal added a whopping 4.6 million new users, according to our estimates. The majority of those, roughly 3.5 million download, happened over the weekend, once Signal took over the #1 position follwing Parler's removal.

Zooming out, Signal added roughly 5.5M users across both platforms in 2019 and 9.8M in 2020. If things continue at this rate, they'll need lots of new servers in 2021.

Facebook caught wind of Signal's overnight success and took advantage of it by buying Search Ads in the App Store.

How long will Signal's wave last?

Telegram - The Other Alternative

While Signal is having a wonderful weekend, another long-standing WhatsApp alternative is also in the spotlight. Telegram, which rose to prominence during the BLM riots in the U.S. and the protests in Belarus in 2020, is now the #2 most downloaded app in the U.S. and is the #1 app in most countries where Signal isn't #1.

Downloads of Telegram on the App Store and Google Play in 2020

Telegram's downloads didn't see as big of a change as Signal's, but that's because Telegram was already getting more daily downloads (and weren't mentioned by Musk or Snowden).

Over the weekend, Telegram added 5.1M new users based on our estimates, roughly 30% more than the average daily downloads for the last three weeks prior.

For comparison, Telegram ended 2019 with an estimated 129M downloads and 392M in 2020. We're already 14M downloads into 2021, which could be a landmark year for privacy-focused messaging apps.

Signal seems like the hot new thing while Telegram is an existing powerhouse. Which are you moving to?

Update 1/12: Article was updated with download estimates for Sunday.

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