In a tweet, @signal app says, “Facebook is probably more comfortable selling ads than buying them, but they’ll do what they have to do in order to be the top result when some people search for ‘Signal’ in the App Store.” This tweet also carries a photo of the search result page on the App Store for the Apple iPhone, where the Facebook Messenger app, or simply Messenger, is listed as the top result. Signal, an instant messaging app developed by the nonprofit Signal Foundation, is a rival for instant messaging apps owned by Facebook, including WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Signal didn’t bother talking about the minor details in their latest tweet.
First up, what they see and what users often see on a search result page on the App Store is an advertisement of an app often similar to the one you have searched for. There isn’t any malice in this ad placement, as Signal seems to be alleging about Facebook and indeed Apple. It is based on algorithms and often avoids ads that you may have already seen earlier to suggest new apps. These ads are given a different colour treatment and clearly marked as “Ad”.
Secondly, we noticed that when we searched for the Signal app multiple times on different iPhones signed in with different iCloud IDs, we saw some other app ads on the top of the search page for the Signal app and after a few searches, the ads disappeared from the search page completely. This was also true when we used the same search pattern for some other apps as well. In our search for the Signal app, we saw ads for the Forex Daily Signals app (this has something to do with forex trading) and twice for the Mixin Messenger app. Incidentally, this app is built on the Signal protocol with end-to-end encryption. Always, and this was without fail, the Signal app was the first actual search result below the ads. Ads in searches are common, including on Google Search on the web.
Once the ads disappeared after a few search attempts, the Signal app led the way for the search, as it should. On the results page, which shows other search results that are based on keywords, app types and suggestion linking, the Signal app was followed by Telegram Messenger, Google Chat, Investmate, Session – Private Messenger, Naughty Dating – Adults Fun, Viber Messenger, Hangouts by Google, Skype for iPhone, BOTIM – video calls and chat, Microsoft Kaizala, LINE and then Messenger by Facebook.
It really is hard to see a conspiracy, as Signal seems to be alleging. At no point did we see Messenger being advertised in the search results.
At this time, Signal is also leading the race in the Top Charts for apps on the Apple App Store in India. It is followed by Telegram Messenger, WhatsApp Messenger, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Google Pay, Snapchat and PhonePe. No conspiracy there, then?
Apple, after they rolled out the new Privacy Labels on the App Store for the iPhone, iPad and Mac, now mandate app developers to clearly state what user data they collect or don’t collect from users. The App Store Privacy Labels will have three sections—Data used to track you, data linked to you and data that is not linked to you. Under each section will be bullet points listing the exact specifics about the data being collected, including contact info, health and fitness data, financial info, usage data, browsing history, location data, personal identifiers and search history. With this information available at a glance, a user can potentially make a more informed decision about whether they want to download a specific app on the iPhone or iPad or Mac, without falling down the data collection and privacy blackhole that became the norm over the years.
In the subsequent revelations, it turns out that WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger collect significantly more user data in comparison with similar instant messenger apps such as Signal and Apple’s own iMessage. This includes health and fitness data, financial info, search history, user content, browsing history and location data. Signal app does not collect any user data, as per the App Store Privacy Labels.