Brian Acton crosses paths again with Facebook. For more than a decade building and running WhatsApp, the company’s co-founder first competed against and then sold his instant messaging app to the social juggernaut. Just a few years ago, he parted ways with the company that made him a billionaire in a bitter split over messaging and privacy.
Now Acton says that the ongoing race over what Facebook has done to the messaging service he helped build is leading people to their latest project ̵
“The smallest incidents helped trigger the biggest outcome,” Acton said in a video call. “We are also pleased to have conversations about electronic privacy and digital security, and people are turning to Signal in response to these questions.”
“It is a great opportunity for Signal to shine and give people a choice and alternative. There was a slow burning for three years and then a huge explosion. Now the rocket goes, “he said.
The event Acton refers to is the recent change in the data sharing policy revealed by WhatsApp, an app that serves more than 2 billion users worldwide.
Through a notification in the app, WhatsApp has in recent days asked users to accept new terms that give the app consent to share their personal data with Facebook. Users must accept these terms by February 8 if they want to continue using the app, the alert said.
Acton said WhatsApp is struggling to incorporate revenue-generating features while still protecting people’s privacy. And the new “complicated policy” has forced WhatsApp and the media to crawl for explanations and “everyone is confused.”
Acton did not reveal how many users Signal has gathered in recent weeks, but he said that the app is currently at the top of the App Store in 40 countries and in the Google Play Store in 18 countries. Signal is not the only app that users have explored in recent days as their new home. Telegram said on Tuesday noon that more than 25 million users had joined the platform in the last 72 hours. The app now has over 525 million active users each month. .)
According to mobile insight firm App Annie, data shared by an industry leader with TechCrunch, Signal had approximately 20 million monthly active users globally by the end of December 2020. According to Sensor Tower, the app was downloaded more than 7.5 million times between January 6 and January 10. .
Since its inception in 2018, Signal has promised that it will not sell users’ data, and that it will not show users ads. In 2018, Acton invested $ 50 million in the Signal Foundation, a check that he said helped make the ball roll. But how does the messaging app plan to stay afloat in the future?
Signal today also depends on donations to bankroll the business – and more users means more donors, he said. “If Signal reaches a billion users, there are a billion donors. All we have to do is get you so excited about Signal that you’ll give us a dollar or 50 rupees. The idea is that we want to earn that donation. The only way to earn a living is to build an innovative and wonderful product. It is a better relationship in my opinion, “he said.
Acton said that this model has worked for the business, which has a small staff of less than 50. Between its meager expenses and the foundation’s size, Signal still has money in the bank.
The Signal Foundation has also previously said that messenger is the first product, and like Mozilla and the Wikimedia Foundation, it intends to expand to more categories. Acton said that in the coming years the team will call if they want to work with email and storage products, but he said that the current focus is still on the messaging app.
Even when Acton has publicly encouraged users to leave Facebook, he did not suggest in our conversation that people should stop using WhatsApp. On the contrary, Acton said he envisions people relying on Signal for conversations with family and close friends, and using WhatsApp for other conversations. “I have no desire to do all the things that WhatsApp does. My desire is to give people a choice, “he said. “Otherwise you are locked in something where you have no choice. It is not strictly a winning scenario. “
One of the criticisms that WhatsApp often receives is that it does not do enough to curb the spread of false information on the platform, which has resulted in losses in real life. I asked Acton what Signal, which also protects users’ end-to-end encryption conversations, would do if people started using his app for a similar purpose. Acton said it is a difficult challenge, and while technology and platform have their own share of responsibilities, they can only do so much, especially when you can not look at the content of the conversation.
“You should teach children good digital responsibility. Do not immediately take the information you receive. Understand the source. Understand who are trusted sources. As a society, teach each member how it works, ”he said, pointing to earlier days on the Internet when e-fraud was rampant, and with time and education, people learned to identify them.