Facebook’s Global Outage Highlights App Dependence in Asia

Billions affected by global outage . . . 

On Monday, Facebook and its applications – Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger – experienced a six-hour global outage, affecting an estimated 3.5 billion users. The disruption was the company’s longest outage since 2008. Facebook has stated it was an internal technical issue resulting from a configuration change to its routers. The net worth of Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s CEO, dropped by US$6 billion during the disruption. Facebook’s corporate image was also tarnished as netizens linked the outage to the airing of a whistle blower’s interview a day before the disruption in which the company was accused of prioritizing “astronomical profit over public safety.” The outage sheds light on the global reliance on Facebook. Several politicians and analysts have described the company’s behaviour as monopolistic.

Parts of Asia hit hard . . .

India and Malaysia, countries heavily reliant on the digital economy, were disproportionally affected by Facebook’s global outage. India, the second-fastest-growing digital economy in the world, is WhatsApp’s largest market. With an estimated 390 million WhatsApp users in the country, the outage severely impaired the operations of health-care facilities, start-up businesses, and banks that rely on the app for scheduling appointments, marketing, and communication. WhatsApp also has a high usage rate in Malaysia, where the digital economy is expected to triple by 2025. The six-hour outage particularly affected Malaysia’s small business owners, many of whom rely on WhatsApp for day-to-day operations and business communications.

Does Facebook’s loss equate to other apps’ gain?

Downloads of encrypted messaging apps, such as Signal and Telegram, sky-rocketed during Facebook’s outage, a digital migration that is not a new phenomenon. In January this year, Signal’s week-on-week downloads increased by 4,200 per cent after WhatsApp announced its intention to share users’ data with Facebook. Such digital migrations could transform the communications app landscape in parts of Asia. While homegrown communication apps Wechat, Kako Talk, and Line are widely used in China, South Korea, and Japan, respectively, India, Singapore, and Malaysia are heavily reliant on Western messaging apps. In 2021, India’s first domestically developed messenger app, Hike, announced it would close due to fierce market competition. Facebook’s outage could represent a potential turning point that opens the market for other encrypted and homegrown messaging apps to supplant the American giant’s dominance.