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Signal, Telegram downloads surge after update to WhatsApp data policy

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GUANGZHOU, China — Downloads of privacy-focused messaging apps Signal and Telegram got a boost as users looked for alternatives to Facebook-owned WhatsApp over concerns about changes to the service’s privacy policy.

Signal saw approximately 7.5 million installs globally through the Apple App Store and Google Play store between Jan. 6 and Jan. 10, according to Sensor Tower. That’s 43 times the number from the previous week. It is highest week or even monthly install number for Signal in the app’s history.

Meanwhile Telegram saw 5.6 million downloads globally from Wednesday through Sunday, according to Apptopia.

Signal claims to have “state-of-the-art end-to-end encryption” as part of its service, which prevents messages from being read by those who are not the intended recipient.

The surge in downloads of these two apps comes after WhatsApp released an update to its privacy policy on Jan. 4. Since 2016, WhatsApp has shared certain data with Facebook. But users previously had a chance to opt out of this.

But starting Feb. 8, users will be prompted in the app to accept the updated terms in order to continue using WhatsApp. Users in Europe and the U.K. will see a different message due to data protection rules in those jurisdictions.

WhatsApp messages are encrypted, however, meaning Facebook will not be able to see their contents. But WhatsApp collects a lot of other data which can be shared with its parent company.

This data includes account registration information such as your phone number, transaction data, service-related information, information on how you interact with others, including businesses when using the service, and mobile device information.

In a Monday statement, WhatsApp said this update does not affect the privacy of messages sent to friends and family. It clarified that the update will include “changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.”

WhatsApp says the data shared with Facebook is used to help improve infrastructure, promote safety and security and refine services by making suggestions or personalizing features and content. This could also include integration between Facebook-branded products and WhatsApp.

After the announcement, Tesla CEO Elon Musk urged his Twitter followers last week to “use Signal.”

Signal reported last week that verification codes sent to users via text message to start using the app were delayed because of high demand. Signal said it added additional servers in order to handle the influx of new users.

“We continue to shatter traffic records and add capacity as more and more people come to terms with how much they dislike Facebook’s new terms,” Signal said in a tweet. “If you weren’t able to create a new group recently, please try again. New servers are ready to serve you.”

Despite the surge in Signal and Telegram downloads, WhatsApp has not seen a decline, according to Adam Blacker, vice president of insights at Apptopia.

“It’s too ingrained. My guess is there is a very small number of people who use WhatsApp daily that are recently deleting it,” Blacker told CNBC by email.

“Even those who are downloading and using Signal or Telegram will continue to use WhatsApp as that is where most of their friends and family are. They may start to talk to certain people on Signal but still chat with their mom on WhatsApp.”


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Malware reportedly found on laptops given to children in England | Education

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An investigation has been launched into reports that some of the laptops handed out to vulnerable children for homeschooling in England are infected with malware.

According to an online forum, teachers from a school in Bradford noticed the issue and believe it contacts Russian servers.

“Upon unboxing and preparing them it was discovered that a number of the laptops are infected with a self-propagating network worm (Gamarue I),” the forum message says.

Gamarue I, identified by Microsoft in 2012, is a worm capable of downloading files on to a PC. According to the tech firm, it can be installed when a spam email attachment is opened and can also copy itself to any USB flash drives connected to the computer.

The Department for Education (DfE) said it was looking into the problem as a matter of urgency but did not think it was widespread. “We are aware of an issue with a small number of devices,” a spokesperson said.

“And we are investigating as an urgent priority to resolve the matter as soon as possible. DfE IT teams are in touch with those who have reported this issue. We believe this is not widespread.”

The government has committed to giving 1.3m laptops and tablets to poorer children during lockdown, with more than 800,000 of these delivered already.

Brian Higgins, a security specialist at Comparitech, said: “Whilst it is unclear where these particular laptops were sourced, it is absolutely vital that anyone seeking to source devices, whether they are bought using sponsorship or donated directly, be fully aware of the risk that they may contain dormant or active malicious software and research appropriate methods to make them safe before they are distributed to homes and families.

“The potential for malicious software to be used against recipients is not limited to the children for which the devices are intended, as access to the internet will no doubt be useful for other family and friends outside of school hours.

“I would highly recommend that anyone distributing devices include some information about online safety.”


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Thumb injury forces video gamer to retire

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Attendees play the Call of Duty: Black Ops III game by Activision Blizzard during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California.

Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A 25-year-old professional video gamer has been forced to retire due to a thumb injury.

Thomas “ZooMaa” Paparatto announced he’s “taking a step back from competitive Call of Duty” on Twitter.

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write, I am stepping down and will no longer compete in competitive Call of Duty for the foreseeable future,” he said in a separate blog post.

“It breaks my heart to step away from a game I put my heart and soul into every single day for eight years,” he added. “Tearing up just writing this, but I don’t know what else to do at this point.”

Paparatto plays for an esports team called New York Subliners and he has earned $387,019 from 87 tournaments, according to Esports Earnings. His largest prize from a single tournament came in April 2018, when he won $53,125 in a Call of Duty: Cold War II competition.

The U.S. gamer struggled with weakness in his thumb and his wrist a few years ago while playing a game called FaZe Clan. He had to have surgery as a result.

“Going through that process of getting healthy again was one of the hardest things I ever had to do both physically and mentally, which led to a lot of stress and anxiety,” he said. “Unfortunately, the injury has returned making it really hard for me to compete at the highest level against some of the best players in the world.”

He said that playing through the pain in his hand “just isn’t possible anymore” and that he doesn’t enjoy competing when he can’t be the “ZooMaa everyone knows and loves.”

Fans and fellow gamers shared their support following his announcement. 

Many professional gamers train or compete for over 10 hours a day, and some of them rake in over a $1 million a year in the process. However, the physical and mental strain on the body can sometimes result in health problems.  

Sam Matthews, founder and chief executive of Fnatic, told CNBC in December: “These people are fit and healthy largely, but there’s always an anomaly to the rule.”



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Samsung Galaxy S21 review: High-end version is gorgeous

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Samsung Galaxy S21 review: High-end version is gorgeous