Although WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are the two most popular messaging apps, ultra-secure encrypted alternatives like Signal and Telegram are both growing rapidly. They’re niche, but they offer privacy-oriented features that are attractive to those concerned about confidentiality, or living in regimes where surveilance is all-encompasing.
Boston-based app analytics firm Apptopia took a look at user growth numbers for Signal and Telegram for those living in corrupt regimes. The firm contrasted the five most and least corrupt countries, according to Transparency International. In these corrupt countries, Apptopia found monthly active user (MUA) growth massively outstrips that from countries perceived as least corrupt.
Signal saw users from the corrupt group of countries soar by 147 percent. In countries that are less corrupt, monthly active users growth was just 11 percent. Apptopia says that Signal saw the majority of its 2017 growth from countries at the top of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index list.
Telegram also saw increased growth from corrupt countries. In 2017, it saw a 118 percent rise in users from the top corrupt countries. Users from the least corrupt countries grew by 99 percent. That’s a difference of 19 percent. It’s not as stark as the chasm shown by Signal, but it’s still pretty big.
The countries in the corrupt group are Venezuela, Nigeria, Kenya, Russia, and the Ukraine. The least corrupt countries in Transparency International’s list are Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, and New Zealand.
There’s a lot to unpack here. Many of the countries in the corrupt group have a distinctly authoritarian bent. According to Freedom House’s Freedom In The World 2017 list, Russia and Venezuela are not free, while Nigeria, Kenya, and the Ukraine are only partly free. This could be a major driver of the growth.
It’s also worth pointing out that Telegram has its origins in Russia, where people are often willing to give home-grown alternatives a chance. In Russia, social network giant VKontakte offers Facebook stiff opposition. Yandex has outpaced Google in the Russian search market, while mail.ru is one of the most successful webmail providers in the country.
For what it’s worth, Apptopia doesn’t ascribe any particular phenomenon for the growth of Signal and Telegram in these nations. It merely notes that there’s a distinct link between perceptions of corruption, and the use of privacy-protecting messaging apps.