Signal founder Brian Acton (left) and Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook owns WhatsApp.
  • The encrypted messaging service Signal won't replace WhatsApp, Brian Acton, the executive chairman of the Signal Foundation and cofounder of WhatsApp, predicted.
  • Downloads of Signal have skyrocketed since rival WhatsApp announced it would make users share some personal data with parent company Facebook.
  • Brian Acton, executive chairman of the Signal foundation, said there was room for both apps. "I have no desire to do all the things that WhatsApp does," he told TechCrunch.
  • He expected people to rely on Signal to talk to family and close friends, while continuing to talk to other people via WhatsApp, he said.
  • Acton cofounded WhatsApp and then sold it to Facebook for $22 billion in 2014. He left the company in 2017, and cofounded the Signal Foundation, which runs Signal, in 2018.
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This article has been corrected below.

Downloads of the encrypted messaging app Signal have skyrocketed since rival WhatsApp announced it would make users share some personal data with parent company Facebook.

But Signal won't replace WhatsApp, the cofounder of both WhatsApp and the Signal Foundation predicted.

The two apps have different purposes, Brian Acton told TechCrunch Wednesday. Acton is the executive chairman of the Signal Foundation, which he cofounded after leaving WhatsApp in 2017. Acton cofounded WhatsApp and then sold it to Facebook for $22 billion in 2014.

"I have no desire to do all the things that WhatsApp does," Acton said, although he didn't specify which WhatsApp features he does not plan to replicate.

He expected people to rely on Signal to talk to family and close friends, while continuing to talk to other people via WhatsApp, he said.

"My desire is to give people a choice," Acton told the publication. "It's not strictly a winner take-all scenario."

Acton has been an outspoken critic of Facebook: in 2018, he urged Facebook users to delete their account.

He left WhatsApp in 2017 "due to differences surrounding the use of customer data and targeted advertising."

In 2018, he cofounded the Signal Foundation with CEO Moxie Marlinspike, using $50 million of his own money. Signal, first created in 2014, has focused on privacy and has promised to never sell users' data or display in-app ads.

On January 6, WhatsApp announced it was changing its terms of service to force users to share some personal data, including phone numbers and locations, with Facebook. Users will lose access in February if they don't agree to the changes.

WhatsApp has since clarified that this only affects users outside the European Union and the UK, and said that the change "does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way."

The changes are now driving people to use Signal, Acton told TechCrunch.

"The smallest of events helped trigger the largest of outcomes," he said.

Signal was installed roughly 7.5 million times on the App Store and Google Play between January 6 and January 10, app-analytics firm Sensor Tower told Insider - a 4,200% increase from the previous week.

Fellow encrypted-messaging app Telegram has also seen booming downloads following WhatsApp's data-sharing announcement. It added more than 25 million new users between Saturday and Tuesday.

"We're also excited that we are having conversations about online privacy and digital safety and people are turning to Signal as the answer to those questions," Acton told TechCrunch.

And because Signal is funded by user donations rather than adverts or selling data, the small team of below 50 staff are motivated to keep improving the app, Acton said.

"The idea is that we want to earn that donation," he told TechCrunch. "The only way to earn that donation is building an innovative and delightful product."

Correction: Initially, this article stated that Brian Acton cofounded Signal in 2018. In fact, he cofounded the Signal Foundation, which now helps develop Signal. The Signal app initially launched in 2014.

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