WhatsApp has seen a sharp drop in downloads in the months leading up to its policy update on May 15, both in India and globally, as per data from Sensor Tower, a mobile apps analytics firm.
WhatsApp announced a policy update in January 2021, which entails more sharing of data between WhatsApp, Facebook, especially on users' chats with business accounts on the platform. WhatsApp has been reiterating that the policy will not affect the privacy of users' personal messages. The update was originally to come into effect on February 8 but was pushed to May 15 following a backlash over privacy concerns.
WhatsApp saw a ~30 percent month-on-month drop in installs in April in India, as per the data, just ahead of the policy update.
WhatsApp saw 7.2 million installs in the month in India, lower than the 10.2 million installs in March. In January and February, WhatsApp had seen 11 million and 11.6 million installs in India respectively.
Rivals Signal and Telegram gained big from the privacy issue around WhatsApp's policy, seeing a huge surge in January.
Signal's downloads in India jumped from only 51,000 in December of 2020 to a massive 21 million in January 2021, while Telegram more than doubled its installs in the same period from 7.1 million in December to 14.8 million in January 2021.
However, since then, the velocity has slowed for both apps, both in India and globally, though Sensor Tower data shows they are still seeing growth year-on-year.
Here is a look at the India trends of the messaging apps:
India -- Download trends for SIGNAL, TELEGRAM, WHATSAPP (MoM)
|Month||Signal||% Change Month-On-Month||Telegram||% Change M/M||WhatsApp||% Change M/M|
|May 1 to 16||246,000||-37.9%||3,700,000||-35.1%||4,000,000||-44.4%|
As per global download trends, Telegram saw a 98 percent YoY jump in installs in Jan-April at 161 million; Signal recorded a 1,192 percent YoY jump in first-time downloads at 64.6 million, while WhatsApp saw a 43 percent YoY decline in installs in Jan-April at 172.3 million.
"The decline in installs is likely due to the privacy changes being enacted," Craig Chapple, Mobile Insights Strategist at Sensor Tower, told CNBC TV 18.
"In July 2020, when the first changes were announced, downloads globally were at their lowest since September 2014. However, it is important to understand that other factors may be at play, such as the impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviour, and the rise of privacy-centric messaging apps like Signal and Telegram," he said.
WhatsApp had announced the policy change in July 2020 but had at the time given the users to opt-out. Its policy update announcement in January made it mandatory for users to accept the policy change or lose functionality.
"Another thing is that WhatsApp is already at critical mass and has billions of users around the world., and so while a decline in downloads shows a negative trend, most people already have the app on their devices," Chapple added.
WhatsApp has over 400 million users in India.
WhatsApp is facing stiff opposition to its policy update in India, with the Indian government asking the Facebook-owned company to withdraw the policy update, and the Competition Commission of India investigating whether WhatsApp has abused its dominant position in the market of messaging apps through its 'take-it-or-leave-it' approach.
In a statement to CNBC TV 18 over the drop in installs, WhatsApp said:
"We’ve spent the last few months working to clear up confusion and misinformation. As a reminder, this update does not impact the privacy of personal messages for anyone.
Our goal is to provide information about new options we are building that people will have, to message a business on WhatsApp, in the future. While the majority of users who have received the new terms of service have accepted them, we appreciate some people haven’t had the chance to do so yet.No accounts were deleted on May 15 because of this update and no one in India will lose functionality of WhatsApp either. We will follow up with reminders to people over the next several weeks. We’re grateful for the important role WhatsApp plays in people’s lives and we’ll take every opportunity to explain how we protect people’s personal messages and private information."