In 2011, Pavel was swatted at his home after reports of his connection with an anti-government protest in Moscow surfaced. He realised then that he had absolutely no secure way to communicate with his brother since all phone lines were likely tapped by the security forces. Realising this as a major loophole in data privacy, he, along with his brother, began developing MTProto – a highly secure encryption protocol specifically for instant messaging services. MTProto would go on to become the core encryption protocol for Telegram.
Telegram was officially launched in August 2013 as an open-source, cloud-based instant messaging app with a highly secure end-to-end encryption. Telegram stands out from its competitors by prioritising data privacy as its core value. In fact, to make the development and operations of the app independent and free from governmental or external influences, the venture was funded largely by Pavel himself. The company also raised nearly $2.7 billion in funding across two rounds of pre-IPO venture and debt funding. The most recent round of funding was organized in March 2021 in which the company received over $1 billion in funding with Mubadala and Abu Dhabi CP as the key investors.
Since Telegram does not believe in sharing user data under any circumstances, it does not run ads or promotions of any kind. Until 2021, it generated revenue solely based on billions of dollars in user donations. However, in November 2021, Telegram released its advertising service where companies can share sponsored messages across public channels with at least 1000 subscribers. These ads are context-based and the service does not use any form of data mining to display them.
Telegram was quick to gain mainstream popularity owing to its anti-authoritarian ethos with utmost care for data privacy. Only a year after its launch, the app had managed to accrue over 35 million users across the world. Over the next few years of its development, it continued to add several features like encrypted voice calling, a media player, and secret messages. By February 2016, it had already crossed the 100 million user registration milestone. By April 2020, that number had jumped to 400 million despite it being banned both temporarily as well as permanently in countries like Russia, Iran, and China.
However, the app has faced several criticisms over allowing users to share media up to 2 GB which has led to the unregulated dissemination of both copyrighted as well as extremist content. This issue is made worse by its highly secure encryption keys which make it very difficult for security agencies to track sensitive content. Despite these issues, user registration numbers are still growing strong and the company has reportedly been planning to go public by 2024.