Telegram’s Popularity Explained

It’s all about privacy

Key Takeaways

  • The messaging app Telegram is climbing to the top of the download charts. 
  • Users say they are tapping the app to make sure their messages stay safe. 
  • Telegram may be poaching users from rival WhatsApp, which has been beset by privacy concerns.
Someone launching a paper airplane from a window to symbolize sending a Telegram message.
FTiare / Getty Images

Messaging app Telegram is climbing to the top of the download charts, thanks to its privacy claims, observers say. 

Telegram is now No. 1 on a list of most-downloaded non-gaming apps globally, according to Notebook Check, citing data from mobile analyst firm Sensor Tower. The app also is No. 1 on Google Play and No. 4 on Apple's App Store. Users say they are tapping the app to make sure their messages stay safe. 

"Telegram is privacy-friendly," Marie Denis-Massé, the founder of Women Make, a Telegram community of more than 1,000 women founders and makers, said in an email interview.

"They don’t sell ads and don’t sell your data. They also have an end-to-end encryption option, which makes it even more respectful of your privacy."

Privacy Concerns Rattle Rivals

Sensor Tower said that Telegram downloads are up 3.8 times from January 2020, with 63 million last month. The most downloads came from India at 20%, followed by Indonesia at 10%.

Telegram may be poaching users from rival WhatsApp, which has been beset by privacy concerns. WhatsApp recently began requiring users to accept a new privacy policy. The new policy allows WhatsApp to share any information that it holds on you with Facebook and its various subsidiaries.

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy got an apparent thumbs down from no less than tech mogul Elon Musk. In a tweet, Musk recommended that people choose the encrypted messaging app, Signal. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey then retweeted Musk’s comment. A few hours later, Signal tweeted that it was working to deal with an influx of new users. 

WhatsApp defended its privacy policy in an online post. "We can’t see your personal messages or hear your calls, and neither can Facebook: Neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can read your messages or hear your calls with your friends, family, and co-workers on WhatsApp," the company said.

"Whatever you share, it stays between you. That’s because your personal messages are protected by end-to-end encryption. We will never weaken this security, and we clearly label each chat, so you know our commitment."

Choosing the Right Messaging Service

The best alternatives to Telegram, assuming that users aren't interested in any product that comes from Facebook, are Signal and iMessage, Sean Herman, the founder and CEO of Kinzoo, a messaging service for kids, said in an email interview. 

"Anyone considering Telegram for their children should know that the platform does not protect the unique privacy needs of children as required by COPPA in the US and GDPR-K in the EU," Herman added.

"Kinzoo Messenger is built from the ground up around children's privacy and gives parents an alternative to Facebook Messenger Kids."

Tech enthusiast Valentina Lopez said in an email interview that she uses Telegram because it offers the option to log in from multiple devices simultaneously and be able to receive messages on all devices.

The Telegram logo on a smartphone silhouetted against a blue background.
Edward Smith / Getty Images

She also appreciates that Telegram's group can have a maximum of 200,000 members. For WhatsApp, 256 is the maximum member capacity in a group. “Also, you can upload a single file of max size up to 2GB on Telegram, whereas the limit for a single file on WhatsApp is 100MBs,” she said. 

While privacy is a crucial consideration, Denis-Massé also said that she appreciates many of Telegram's features. Unlike WhatsApp, you don’t have to share your phone number, which is a significant advantage when you are part of big groups. 

"Telegram is also a great platform to meet people through groups," she added. "They can be closed, as well as public, and the many built-in features that came with time made it possible to manage a whole community through the app."

Telegram makes for an excellent alternative to Signal, Joe Sinkwitz, CEO of influencer marketing network Intellifluence, said in an email interview, particularly for users that want a secure, private messaging app that isn’t owned by big tech. "While the privacy details are debated somewhat among security experts," he added. "Telegram offers larger group chats (up to 200,000!), making it ideal for large organizations who value privacy."

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