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Elon Musk Sends Signal Downloads Soaring: What You Should Know About The App

Shivdeep Dhaliwal
·3 min read

Tesla Inc (NASDAQ: TSLA) CEO Elon Musk sent Signal downloads soaring as he advocated for the messaging app last week. The app was installed 7.5 million times on Apple Inc (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Alphabet Inc’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL) (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android app stores between Jan. 6 and Jan. 10, according to Sensor Tower data reported by CNBC.

Signal monthly installs have hit their lifetime high, but what exactly is the app and what sets its apart from rivals such as Facebook Inc’s (NASDAQ: FB) WhatsApp — which is under fire after it revised its privacy policy?

What Is Signal: Signal is a messaging app that offers services on mobile phones and desktops. The app allows users to make video or voice calls along with texting. All the communications are end-to-end encrypted, which means even Signal cannot see the contents of these chats and calls. The only information that Signal collects from its users is a phone number, which means it has limited data to hand over to law enforcement authorities.

Shares Some Pedigree With WhatsApp: Signal is a non-profit organization, which was created by a $50 million grant from WhatsApp’s founder Brian Acton. Acton left WhatsApp after Facebook acquired it in 2014 for $19 billion in cash and stock, as per Reuters.

Privacy Focused: When Acton and co-founder Matthew Rosenfeld announced the launch of Signal, the latter said in a message that its mission was to “develop open source privacy technology that protects free expression and enables secure global communication.”

“Our plan is to pioneer a new model of technology nonprofit focused on privacy and data protection for everyone, everywhere,” wrote Acton.

A Different Revenue Model: Signal’s non-profit model means it depends on grants and private investors for its survival. This week, Musk revealed that he had given such a grant a year ago and pledged to “donate more.”

Why The Controversy: WhatsApp recently unveiled a new privacy policy, which will come into effect in February. The privacy policy allegedly eliminates the choice to opt-out of data-sharing with WhatsApp parent Facebook. 

Forbes reported that the data to be share includes everything from battery level and browser information to the user’s IP address. Facebook has since then been at pains to explain that the policy changes are to facilitate data sharing between WhatsApp and itself and does not affect consumer chats.

Benzinga’s Take: Facebook has basically shot itself in the foot at a time when the role of tech giants is under immense scrutiny.

The Mark Zuckerberg-led tech giant has been explaining to users that the policy applies to business messaging, but it is the coupling of messaging and commerce that is now in the eye of the storm, as people realize their messaging platforms should afford them complete peace of mind as far as privacy is concerned.

Zuckerberg & Co’s privacy policy missteps are in essence for privacy-focused standalone messaging apps like Signal, or Telegram, but are unlikely to shake the domination of Facebook-owned platforms anytime soon.

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