Messaging app Signal has been overwhelmed by an influx of new users in the days since WhatsApp updated its data sharing policy to force users outside the UK and Europe to share information with parent company Facebook.
The company’s official account tweeted that verification codes for new users were being delayed by the sheer amount of new registrations, saying: “we can barely register our excitement”.
“New users in Europe should be able to register without delay again,” it said.
“We will continue to work with carriers to keep delivering a record-high number of Signal verification codes.”
While Signal did not respond to requests to confirm how many new users had joined the platform, it conceded it was “a whole lot“.
Signal is run by an independent non-profit and uses end-to-end encryption to secure messages and calls sent and made through it, free from adverts or tracking.
WhatsApp, which was acquired by Facebook in 2014, told its users at the time that their data would be kept private and not shared with its new owner.
However, it began sharing data with the social network two years later, giving users the choice to opt out.
A forthcoming update on 8 February means users living outside the UK and Europe will have to share personal data with Facebook as a condition of using the app. Declining the conditions will mean the app can no longer be used.
What data is being shared?
People living outside of Europe will need to agree to Facebook having access to their phone number and other information provided on registration (such as name), details of the device being used, the user’s IP address (which discloses internet connection location) and any payments made or received through the app in order to continue using it.
Elon Musk, the Tesla founder and recently-named richest known man in the world, encouraged his Twitter followers to sign up to the encrypted messaging app in the wake of the violent protests in the US Capitol, a sentiment echoed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“For the avoidance of any doubt, it is still the case that WhatsApp does not share European region WhatsApp user data with Facebook for the purpose of Facebook using this data to improve its products or advertisements.”
Future of WhatsApp data sharing
However, Facebook will be legally allowed to move the UK out of the EU’s privacy jurisdiction following the completion of Brexit, despite saying it has no intention to do so.
“Like other companies, Facebook has had to make changes to respond to Brexit and will be transferring legal responsibilities and obligations for UK users from Facebook Ireland to Facebook [as based in California],” the company told Reuters last year.
“There will be no change to the privacy controls or the services Facebook offers to people in the UK.”