Among the alternatives to WhatsApp, alongside Telegram, one of the most popular options is Signal.
The growing instant messaging application has been blocked in mainland China. The chats no longer work and the app’s website is inaccessible from those latitudes.
Within the spectrum of social networks and messaging services, one of the few Western alternatives available in China was Signal, until very recently.
Signal’s disappearance from Apple’s Chinese App Store was not immediate. After the block was made official last Tuesday, according to the censorship-tracking website Greatfire.org on its Twitter account, Apple did not receive a government order to remove the app, which has gradually gained traction among privacy-conscious users in China.
As for the Android landscape, app shops in China are run by a number of third-party Chinese tech firms, which tend to comply strictly with local censors and do not consider Signal among their options. Google Play does not operate in the Asian giant.
The censorship came just at a time when Signal was booming in China. The iOS version of Signal has been installed nearly 510,000 times to date in China, according to figures from its App Store, which in its Chinese version boasts a rating of 4.9 out of 5, based on 37,000 ratings. In addition, Signal recently crossed the 100 million download threshold on Apple’s App Store and Google Play combined globally.
As of January, Signal’s cumulative downloads in China reached 458 thousand, being surpassed by the 2.7 million users who installed Telegram.
The increase in users came in the wake of the scandal with WhatsApp’s updated policies, which generated a lot of commotion and confusion at the time. Since then, interest in digital privacy has broadened in scope and more people have become concerned about safeguarding their data online.
China has a kind of “great firewall”, which acts as a large digital filter for communications both externally and with the outside world. This has motivated the interest of many Chinese citizens to circumvent these controls and Signal, by offering encrypted communications, became a threat to this model.
In China, a local alternative to Western services and platforms is always at hand. As for Signal, it is not known whether the block is temporary or temporary; although judging by its growing popularity and the fact that it is a messaging application, this situation may not be reversed, as the app can be replaced by other alternatives. So far, the most popular option there is WeChat, with 1.1 billion monthly users.