Brian Acton crosses paths again with Facebook. For more than a decade building and operating WhatsApp, the company’s co-founder first competed and then sold its instant messaging app to the social juggernaut. Just a few years ago, the road parted with the company that made him a billionaire in a bitter split over messaging and privacy.
Now, Acton says the ongoing anger over what Facebook has done with the messaging service he helped build is driving people to its latest project ̵
“The smallest event helped trigger the biggest of the results,” Acton said during a video call. “We are also pleased that we have conversations about online privacy and digital security, and people turn to Signal in response to these questions.”
“It is a fantastic opportunity for Signal to shine and give people a choice and an alternative. It was a slow combustion for three years and then a huge explosion. Now the rocket goes, ”he said.
The event Acton is referring to is the recent change in data sharing policy unveiled by WhatsApp, an app that serves more than 2 billion users worldwide.
Via an alarm in the app, WhatsApp has asked users in recent days to accept new terms and conditions that give the app permission to share their personal data with Facebook. Users will have to accept these terms by Feb. 8 if they want to continue using the app, the alarm said.
Acton said WhatsApp is struggling to incorporate revenue generation features while still protecting people’s privacy. And its new “complicated policy” has forced WhatsApp and the media to look for explanations and “everyone is confused.”
Acton did not disclose how many users Signal has gathered in recent weeks, but he said the app currently ranks 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 been exploring in recent days as their new home. Telegram said on Tuesday afternoon that more than 25 million users had signed up for the platform within the last 72 hours. The app now has over 525 million active users every month. .)
According to mobile insights firm App Annie, whose data an industry leader shared 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 6th and 10th. January.
Since its inception in 2018, Signal has promised that it will not sell its users’ data and that it will not show its users ads. In 2018, Acton invested $ 50 million in the Signal Foundation, a control that he said helped get the ball rolling. But how does the messaging app plan to stay afloat in the future?
Signal today is also dependent on donations for bankrolling the company – and more users means more donors, he said. “If Signal reaches one billion users, it will be one billion donors. All we have to do is get you so excited about Signal that you will give us a dollar or 50 rupees. The idea is that we want to earn that donation. The only way to earn the donation is to build an innovative and wonderful product. It’s a better relationship in my opinion, ”he said.
Acton said this model has worked for the company, which has a small staff of under 50. Between its frugal expenses and the size of the fund, Signal still has some money in the bank.
The Signal Foundation has also previously said that messenger is its first product, and like Mozilla and the Wikimedia Foundation, it intends to expand to more categories. Acton said in the coming years the team will call to see if they will work on email and storage products, but he said the current focus is still on the messaging app.
Even when Acton has publicly urged users to get off Facebook, he did not suggest in our conversation that people should stop using WhatsApp. On the contrary, Acton said he imagines people relying on Signal for conversations with their family and close friends and using WhatsApp for other chats. “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 win-take-all scenario. ”
One of the criticisms that WhatsApp often receives is that it does not do enough to slow down the spread of false information on its platform, which has resulted in losses in reality. 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 although technology and platform have their own share of responsibility, they can only do so much, especially when you can not look at the content of the conversation.
“You need to teach your children good digital responsibility. Do not just take the information you receive immediately. Understand its source. Understand who trusts sources. As a community, teach each member how it works, ”he said, pointing to earlier days on the Internet when email scams were rampant and with time and education taught people to identify them.