We met the CEO and founder of Telegram, Pavel Durov, to talk about his app, where he is going and everyone's rights
By: Philip Di SalvoPublished: March 4, 2016
Pavel Durov, CEO and founder of Telegram, speaks in a low voice, weighing every word. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona he announced that his service used by 100 million active users and that 350,000 people download its application every day. The feeling that things are getting really serious for Telegram and Durov's tone adjusts accordingly.
Escaped from Russia to not give the data of the users of his previous company, Durov, who also spent some years of his childhood in Turin, launched Telegram with the idea of providing a more secure chat application than competitors and with a greater respect for privacy: those who use it do not go back, says Durov: “We have managed to reach a truly global user base, which trusts us and who recommends friends to use our app. I hope we will be able to live up to expectations, but I think we are just starting out. "
In which countries is Telegram doing better? Where did you expand the most?"There is not a single country, there are different contexts where we have almost 2 million users. I am happy that Italy is in this group and, even if the absolute numbers are not so high, the growth is really encouraging and the judgment of us more than positive. We are very pleased, especially for me, who are very close to Italian culture ".
Telegram had a precise evolution, from application to desktop service, then channels and bots arrived. Do you believe that Telegram can become a complete communication platform? Are you going in this direction?“Exactly, and for that reason users expect a lot from our app and many services want to be part of it. We give others the opportunity to build in our environment and bees are a fundamental part for the development of Telegram. Then, every month, we provide an update based on how people define how they communicate. For example, last month, we improved our voicemail service. Once people switch to Telegram from other applications, if they have enough friends to use it, they never go back. "
You are a European company that produces a global service that competes with the big names in Silicon Valley. Do you think a European response is possible or the others are too big?“We started from Berlin and Europe is a good place to run a technology company: it seems to me that governments here are realizing how necessary it is to support entrepreneurs in this sector and I think it will always be more convenient to be here, especially if I think of how many talented engineers there are, especially in Eastern Europe. And the costs are much lower than in Silicon Valley. "
What makes Telegram different than other messaging apps? Do the others really suck?"To survive in this sector we have to be better than our competitors and we believe we have created the fastest and easiest to use messaging experience as well as the safest. We have kept security at the center of the project from the beginning, while others they delayed the management of user data: for example, WhatsApp had very low security layers until 2012 and anyone, having access to your Wi-Fi network, could also access your messages.Many people use Telegram for stickers, to others the reason for the possibility of having very large group chats; for others, the possibility of sending large files; for more still, as journalists, politicians and teenagers, for the same reasons they use Snapchat, they are secure chats and privacy ".
You left Russia so as not to come to terms with government pressure to monitor citizens' data. Do you think that digital surveillance will be increasingly pervasive and that encryption will be increasingly important?“I think there are positive and other negative changes: among the first I put the fact that companies are providing their users with the possibility of chatting by taking advantage of strong encryption and better standards of protection. As for the little encouraging changes, however, there is the fact that, in mobile, there are only two great players from the point of view of operating systems ": iOS and Android, of course. "The point that they are both American and possible that these companies will have to compromise on security, because if there is a backdoor in the operating system, the data would still be vulnerable. This something that I hope can be changed. "
The Apple vs. Case Emblematic FBI in this sense. How do you place yourself in this scenario?“We think that user privacy and the security of their data is extremely important. Any attempt to regulate this technology that leads to legal precedents must be addressed with due caution. We are happy that the global community has supported Tim Cook and this gives me hope that the situation can develop in a constructive way. What the US government wants to solve can be solved without having to pay such a high price. "
After the Paris attacks, cryptography returned to the center of the debate and many accused it of being a weapon in the hand of terrorists and Telegram had to close several channels that were used by jihadists. How do you respond to these attacks on digital security?“There are two answers to be given. Channels is a public broadcasting tool and, yes, it has also been used by people who have used it to promote the jihadist movement, but our position is very clear: block everything as much as possible. Every day we close a dozen channels. The second part, however, has to do with end-to-end encryption, which allows you to avoid exposing yourself to potential surveillance. We are among the providers of this technology and it is problematic for us to know that this can be used for evil purposes, but the technology already exists, there are several options, and if you want you can easily create a new one. This is why I think it is extremely difficult to face this problem and the solutions are probably out of technology. "
Do you think Edward Snowden's revelations had a particular influence on Telegram's success?“Initially, for sure. Snowden, in particular for us, was fundamental in understanding that the problems we had in Russia were basically the same in other countries too: a government that invades citizens' privacy with too much ease. When we left, we had a peak of new users with no ads, no marketing activities, and that could be due to Snowden's revelations. Then, when we launched secure chats, there was another spike. Having said that, I believe that our technology is superior in other ways too, starting from speed and simplicity. Next year, we would like other reasons, in addition to security, to cause another surge in new users. "
What will be the next step in this evolution?“We work in this way: we launch something and see how users adopt it and we try to catch a trend. For us it has always been this way and we don't have a long-term plan on what we will do in a year, for example. We have a plan at most for the next two or three months: this allows us to remain relevant and evolve on the basis of market demands. If you look at our history, we started as an app that provided the possibility to chat safely, but then we looked at what our users wanted and we evolved ".