The messaging app that’s benefiting from WhatsApp’s ban in Brazil

A temporary ban probably won’t make a major dent.
A temporary ban probably won’t make a major dent.
Image: EPA/Ritchie B. Tongo
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Brazil is blocking WhatsApp again, leaving more than 100 million users temporarily without their favorite chat app. But the misfortune for the Facebook-owned app presented a windfall to one of its competitors.

Telegram, another messaging app, is reporting that its registration systems are crashing because of a surge in sign-ups from Brazilian users, with more than 1 million new users joining the service in the wake of the WhatsApp ban.

A judge ordered the country’s wireless operators to obstruct use of the app for 72 hours following Facebook running afoul of Brazilian authorities—who say the company did not provide data requested by for a criminal investigation. WhatsApp turned on end-to-end encryption for all its 1 billion users by default last month, ensuring that it couldn’t extract data from some users even if it were legally compelled to do so.

WhatsApp users in Brazil turning to Telegram will find an even greater set of privacy-preserving features. From its launch, the chat app has touted its emphasis on privacy, including the ability to send “secret” messages that delete themselves after a certain period of time. These messages are not stored on Telegram servers, the company says, so once they’re deleted, they’re not retrievable.

It’s the second time that Telegram is reporting a surge in user numbers in Brazil. It claimed nearly 6 million new users joined its service in December 2015, when WhatsApp was first ordered banned in the country. Taken in aggregate, the WhatsApp bans in Brazil will have handed Telegram more than 7 million new users in four months, adding to its tally of 100 million users globally.

Despite the bans, WhatsApp remains Brazil’s dominant chat platform. Some 90% of Android devices in Brazil have WhatsApp installed, and Brazilians spend an average of about an hour a day in the app, according to the data collection firm SimilarWeb. That’s four times longer than Brazilians spent in Facebook Messenger, the next most popular chat app.

Telegram remains a distant third to the two chat apps owned by Facebook, according to a survey conducted by the research firm Mobile Time in Brazil. Some 18% of smartphone users in Brazil were using Telegram monthly. Facebook Messenger had about four times more users, while WhatsApp had nearly five times the figure. Skype didn’t report a surge in new users, although a spokesperson told Quartz: “Brazil is a key market for Skype, which means we consistently see continual high usage and download numbers in the region.”