Telegram is now number one in downloads, having pushed WhatsApp to fourth position
The government had come out with IT guidelines which were to be implemented from May 26
Facebook’s messenger app WhatsApp has gone to the Delhi High Court to challenge the government’s new rules to break-end-to-end encryption on grounds that they violate freedom of speech.
But as the two prepare for a long legal battle, the chief beneficiary of the tussle could well be WhatsApp’s rival Telegram, which has seized the top slot among communication applications downloaded from Google Play in India, according to App Annie data, pushing WhatsApp to the fourth slot.
The government had come out with IT guidelines which were to be implemented from May 26. Under these rules, social media companies like Twitter, WhatsApp and others, had to identify the source of a message, if it is considered unlawful, within 72 hours.
This rule, WhatsApp argues, violates the various constitutional rights of its 400 million users. According to data on downloads on Google store, App Annie shows that WhatsApp (which was the number one communication app in India on May 14) dropped to fourth place on May 24, just a day before what was the last date to comply with the government rules.
On May 27, it was languishing in fourth place. Moreover, WhatsApp’s overall ranking among all apps has fallen from number 17 on May 14 to number 37 – a pretty steep drop.
Signal, however, is not getting the same traction. It had become the darling of Indians with over 26.4 million downloads as millions shifted en masse to Signal in search of a more secure alternative following WhatsApp’s decision earlier to tighten its privacy rules in January, a move that was met with a huge public outcry.
On May 27, Signal’s ranking rose to number 17, up from number 34 on May 25, but it is still a long way behind its rivals.
It’s unclear whether Signal, which cherishes privacy and hardly collects or stores metadata of contacts or messages and has end-to-end encryption, according to experts, is expected to tweak its model to comply with the order.
“With the strong privacy Signal has, no one will be able to use the app at all in India based on the new government requirements,” said Faisal Kawoosa, founder of techARCH. Signal did not respond to queries.
However, Telegram, which has over 500 million subscribers worldwide, said in a statement, without clarifying what areas it still needs to act on in order to meet fulfil the government’s requirements, that it has ‘complied with almost all the IT laws’.
It added: “Telegram has informed the concerned government authorities in writing regarding the compliance.”
In its case before the Delhi HC, WhatsApp has pointed out that by needing intermediaries to trace the originators of information or posts, there is an implicit expectation for users to be known and data on these users to be collected.
It said this rule is ‘technically unfeasible in case of intermediaries like Signal and Telegram, banking applications and end-to-end encrypted platforms that do not collect or retain metadata required for purposes of traceability’.
However, WhatsApp also says that, in cases where platforms do collect metadata, the rule implies that encryption has to be weakened.