Brian Acton crosses paths with Facebook again. In more than a decade of building and running WhatsApp, the company’s co-founder competed first and then competed sold its instant messaging app to the Social Juggernaut. Just a few years ago he did separated from the company that made him a billionaire all in one bitter split over messaging and privacy.
Now Acton says the ongoing outrage over what Facebook did with the messaging service it built is driving people to its latest project – Signal. Acton, who serves as executive chairman of the holding company for the privacy-conscious messaging app, told TechCrunch in an interview that Signal’s user base has “exploded” in recent weeks.
“The smallest event helped create the biggest result,” Acton said on a video call. “We’re also excited to have conversations about online privacy and digital security and people are reaching out to Signal in response to those questions.”
“It’s a great opportunity for Signal to shine and give people a choice and alternative. It was a slow fire for three years and then a huge explosion. Now the rocket goes, ”he said.
Through an in-app warning, WhatsApp has asked users over the past few days to agree to new terms that give the app permission to share their personal information with Facebook. Users must agree to these terms by February 8th if they want to continue using the app.
According to Acton, WhatsApp is struggling to integrate monetization features while protecting people’s privacy. And its new “complicated politics” forced WhatsApp and the media to do so look for explanations and “everyone is confused.”
Acton did not reveal how many users Signal has amassed in the past few weeks, but said the app currently tops the App Store in 40 countries and the Google Play Store in 18 countries. (Signal isn’t the only app users have explored as their new home in the past few days. Telegram said Tuesday lunchtime that more than 25 million users have joined the platform in the past 72 hours. The app now has over 525 million active Users per month.)
According to App Annie, a mobile insights company whose data an industry executive shared with TechCrunch, Signal had approximately 20 million monthly active users worldwide as of December 2020. According to Sensor Tower, the app was downloaded more than 7.5 million times between January 6th and 10th.
Since its inception in 2018, Signal has promised not to sell its users ‘data or display its users’ ads. In 2018 Acton invested $ 50 million in the Signal FoundationA check he said helped get the ball rolling. But how does the messaging app plan to stay afloat in the future?
Signal today also relies on donations to fund its business – and more users mean more donors, he said. “If Signal reaches a billion users, that’s a billion donors. We just have to get you excited about Signal that you want to give us a dollar or 50 rupees. The idea is that we want to earn this donation. The only way to earn this donation is to create an innovative and delightful product. That’s a better relationship in my opinion, “he said.
Acton said this model worked for the company, which has a small workforce of under 50 people. Between its frugal spending and the size of the foundation, Signal still has some cash in the bank.
The Signal Foundation has already said that Messenger is the first product and, like Mozilla and Wikimedia Foundation, intends to expand it to more categories. Acton said the team will be on a call in the coming years asking if they want to work on email and storage products, but he said the current focus is still on the messaging app.
Even if Acton has publicly asked users to do so Get off FacebookIn our conversation, he didn’t suggest that users stop using WhatsApp. On the contrary, Acton said he envisioned people relying on Signal to talk to their family and close friends and using WhatsApp for other chats. “I don’t feel like doing all the things WhatsApp does. My wish is to give people a choice, ”he said. “Otherwise you are bound to something that you have no choice about. It’s not necessarily a winning scenario. “
One of the criticisms that WhatsApp often receives is that it is not doing enough to curb the spread of false information on its platform, which has led to it real victims. I asked Acton what Signal, which also protects its users’ conversations with end-to-end encryption, would do if people started using their app for a similar purpose. Acton said it was a tough challenge, and while the technology and platform have their own responsibilities, there is only so much they can do, especially if you can’t look at the content of the conversation.
“You should teach your children good digital responsibility. Do not immediately take the information you are given. Understand its source. Understand who trusted sources are. As a member, teach each member how it works, ”he said, referring to earlier days on the internet when email scams were rife and with time and education people learned to identify them.