At the beginning of January, WhatsApp users received notification messages when they opened the app on their phone. This notification explained the policy changes to privacy and data collection. Clicking the notification to expand the message led to a 4000-word explanation of all the changes. The most important of these changes was that the app now reserves the right for sharing data (such as phone numbers, IP addresses, payments made through Facebook platforms). The app also states that if anyone contacted businesses that use Facebook hosting technology to manage their chats, the messages could be used by the business to target people with ads on Facebook. What followed was a fierce backlash by many who used the messaging app, boycotting the application, and spreading messages to others to instead use alternative apps was their form of protest.
Consumers, however, were not the only ones to have such a response to the situation. The President of Turkey announced that they were dropping WhatsApp. This type of reaction is not surprising, given that over recent years, people have become more skeptical about the way that companies use data from consumers and use it for their means, whether for consumer profile building or sharing the information with other organizations.
(The notification sent to most WhatsApp users)
The effect of the initial outrage and boycott resulted in WhatsApp losing millions of users in the coming weeks. What’s more devastating was that not only was there a mass exodus from the messaging app, but millions joined rivals soon after as an alternative and “safer” choice. One of the messaging apps that gained huge traction due to the scandal was Signal, which was recommended by Elon Musk and American whistleblower Edward Snowden. In just a week, Signal gained 5-8 million users, a huge uptick from the 246k from the prior week. The one who benefitted the most from the scandal was Telegram, which gained around 25 million users in just over 72 hours. This helped the messaging app achieve 500 million active users, prompting it to send a congratulatory message to all users.
(The message received by Telegram users)
The negative response to the policy change has forced WhatsApp to delay the full implementation of the new policies, which was set to take place on February 8. Instead, WhatsApp has opted on campaigning and inform its users and everyone else on the specifics of the policy changes and how data will be managed in order to clarify any misunderstanding. Time will tell if this will have any effect on consumer confidence in the product.