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Losing Facebook is bad, but losing WhatsApp is worse

Losing Facebook is bad, but losing WhatsApp is worse

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What happens when you lose the encrypted messaging app everyone uses?

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

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. Yet for WhatsApp users, especially outside of the US, losing Facebook’s encrypted messaging service is a life-halting change, and one competing messaging services were eager to capitalize on today.

In February last year, WhatsApp announced it had 2 billion users worldwide. Compare that to original flavor Facebook’s 2.5 billion and it's easy to see how many lives WhatsApp touches. It’s become the default method to contact people in plenty of countries, including around 400 million unique monthly users in India Bloomberg writes. That goes beyond casual communication, as well: WhatsApp is also focused on becoming a critical tool for business. The app already takes in-app payments in Brazil and India. On top of that, WhatsApp claimed in October 2020 that 175 million people globally used its app to message businesses every day.

With WhatsApp down, that means calls and messages to friends and family can go unanswered, customer service requests unaddressed, and vital organizing information undisseminated. The secure messaging app is frequently also one of many tools organizers use to lead demonstrations and protests (unless it’s blocked).

A WhatsApp outage is a huge problem for the people who rely on it, but a possible boon for competing encrypted messaging apps. The major players, Signal, Telegram, and at least in the US, iMessage, all stand to benefit when Facebook and WhatsApp fumble. So far at least, only Signal has taken a public victory lap.

The company wasn’t able to disclose specific figures to The Verge but did say that Signal was hitting levels of new sign-ups, “on par with January of this year.” The same month, I’ll note, when WhatsApp rolled out its controversial new privacy policy for business messages and Facebook at large came under fire yet again for the role it may have played in the January 6th riots at the Capitol. Telegram and Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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


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