FILE PHOTO: The messenger app WeChat is seen next to its logo in this illustration picture taken August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Florence Lo
(Reuters) – More users in the United States downloaded chat app WeChat and its encrypted alternative Signal, after President Donald Trump threatened to ban WeChat, owned by Chinese company Tencent, according to Sensor Tower data shared with Reuters on Thursday.
WeChat users in the United States rushed to install the app before it could disappear from the app stores. Others, especially in China, sought alternatives like the encrypted Signal, owned by non-profit Signal Foundation.
WeChat app downloads in the United States rose 41% in a six-day average from the week prior to the U.S. ban announced last Thursday, according to Sensor Tower. Signal app downloads in U.S. and China app stores separately jumped by 30% and 90%.
“Not only are alternatives like WhatsApp and Telegram officially blocked in China, but Signal has an inherent advantage in that it’s well known for being strongly encrypted,” Stephanie Chan, Mobile Insights Strategist at Sensor Tower told Reuters. Signal did not immediately respond to request for comment.
WeChat users have also turned to another Tencent-owned chat app, QQ, as the ban did not specifically cover this product. Its downloads in the United States have tripled in the past week, Sensor Tower data showed.
Some Chinese immigrants and expats worry losing access to the popular WeChat could cut off contact with family and friends in China, where most popular U.S. instant messaging apps including Facebook, Whatsapp and Telegram have been blocked by the Chinese government’s Great Firewall.
It was unclear how the administration could implement the ban on WeChat in mid-September. It could order Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google to remove WeChat from their app store, or order the apps to stop offering access or updates to U.S. users.
Some users said they planned to access WeChat in the United States using a virtual private network (VPN), a common tool people in China use to hide IP address to evade government restrictions.
Reporting by Krystal Hu; additional reporting by Echo Wang; Editing by Ken Li, Leslie Adler and David Gregorio