Losing Facebook is bad, but losing WhatsApp is worse

In the chaos of Monday’s Facebook outage, it’s easy to lose sight of the company’s reach. Not being able to post a new photo to Instagram is an annoyance, but it’s not necessarily catastrophic. But for WhatsApp users, especially outside the United States, the loss of Facebook’s encrypted messaging service is a life-threatening change, and a competing messaging service was eager to take advantage today.

In February last year, WhatsApp announced that it had 2 billion users worldwide. Compare that to the original taste of Facebook’s 2.5 billion, and it’s easy to see how many lives WhatsApp touches. It has become the standard method of contacting people in lots of countries, including about 400 million unique monthly users in India Bloomberg writes. It also goes beyond random communication: WhatsApp is also focused on becoming a critical tool for business. The app already receives payments in the app in Brazil and India. On top of that, in October 2020, WhatsApp claimed that 175 million people globally used its app to send messages to businesses every day.

When WhatsApp is down, it means that calls and messages to friends and family can go unanswered, customer service requests are not addressed and vital organization of information is spread. The secure message app is often also one of many tools that organizers use to lead demonstrations and protests (unless blocked).

A WhatsApp interruption is a big issue for the people who trust it, but a possible boon for competing encrypted messaging apps. The big players, Signal, Telegram and at least in the US, iMessage, all benefit when Facebook and WhatsApp fumble. So far, at least only Signal has taken a public victory round.

The company was not able to provide specific figures for The edge but said Signal hit levels of new sign-ups, “on par with January this year.” That same month, I would notice when WhatsApp rolled out its controversial new privacy policy for business messages and Facebook in general was again shelled for the role it possibly played in riots in the Capitol on January 6th. Telegram and Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook is recovering its services and it will take more time before we can really know how many people negatively impacted the Facebook outage. For now, though, it’s safe to say that it was probably a lot more annoying than not being able to update your story.

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