South Africans flock to Telegram after WhatsApp privacy backlash

Telegram downloads have topped the Google Play Store rankings since WhatsApp tried to force users to agree to its updated terms and privacy policies to continue using the app.

The new terms of service included a clause which allows Facebook to share data from WhatsApp across its other products.

The updated policy revealed that Facebook will have access to users’ phone numbers, their contacts’ phone numbers, profile names, and pictures, and status messages including “last online” time.

WhatsApp has been sharing information with Facebook since 2016, but many users were not aware of the extent to which this was happening.

The in-app notification drew users’ attention to this privacy issue and caused a privacy backlash against WhatsApp across the world.

As part of this backlash, a lot of misinformation was shared which WhatsApp and Facebook tried to fight, but their damage control campaigns proved ineffective.

The pushback was so severe that it forced the company to delay the date by which users must agree to the terms of service from 8 February 2021 to 15 May 2021.

This, the company said, was aimed at giving it time to explain the changes and “help everyone understand their principles and the facts”.

The additional information shared by Facebook and WhatsApp did not stem the tide of WhatsApp users who started to use alternatives like Telegram and Signal.

Telegram has reportedly gained 90 million new users this year, which included 25 million new users who joined the platform within a span of 72 hours.

Telegram founder Pavel Durov said on 14 January the already massive influx of new users to Telegram has only accelerated. “We may be witnessing the largest digital migration in human history,” he said.

The latest spike in users has helped Telegram to pass 500 million users. “We’ve had surges of downloads before, throughout our 7-year history of protecting user privacy. But this time is different,” Durov said.

Growth of Telegram and Signal in South Africa

A good indicator of the popularity of communications apps in South Africa is the Google Play Store rankings which show which mobile apps are downloaded the most by Android users.

The Google Play rankings, provided by App Annie, reveal that Telegram jumped from around 100th to first in South African Play Store rankings after the WhatsApp backlash started.

Telegram remained in first place from 9 January 2021 until now, which shows its strong growth in South Africa is not losing steam.

Signal, in turn, jumped from nearly nowhere to third after the backlash hit social media. Over the last week, it dropped to twelfth but is still far above its previous levels.

WhatsApp, in comparison, dropped from second place at the beginning of 2021 to seventh after the user revolt.

It has recovered to third place in recent days, but it is still behind Telegram, which tops the rankings.

Telegram’s dramatic rise in South Africa does not, however, mean that WhatsApp users are abandoning the app. Instead, they seem to be using both messaging platforms.

Recent traffic data, provided to MyBroadband by a prominent mobile service provider, showed that WhatsApp remains the dominant messaging platform in South Africa despite the rapid growth of Telegram and Signal.

There was virtually no change in WhatsApp traffic since the user backlash started earlier this month, and its usage is around 100 times higher than that of Telegram.

The charts below show the Google Play Store rankings for Telegram, Signal, and WhatsApp and their traffic levels this month.


Telegram ranking


Signal ranking


WhatsApp ranking

Now read: Telegram and Signal are growing, but WhatsApp remains dominant in South Africa

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South Africans flock to Telegram after WhatsApp privacy backlash