Existing Signal users might be getting more notifications than usual. “Jack is on Signal,” “Cathy is on Signal,” “Miriam is on Signal,” all pings showing phone contacts who are joining the secure messaging app.
Those pings reflect the fact that there’s been an influx of new users. Known for its end-to-end encryption and independent structure as a non-profit organization run by a foundation — not a big tech company — Signal has previously been the communication method of choice for activists, people in the hacker community, and others concerned about privacy.
Recently, it’s gone mainstream.
Recently, Facebook-owned WhatsApp — which is end-to-end encrypted using Signal’s protocols — began issuing a privacy update notification to users making clear that it is sharing user data with Facebook (which it has actually been doing for years). That’s led people to look elsewhere for a secure communications app, helped along by Elon Musk’s Jan. 7 tweet which simply stated: “Use Signal.”
Over the past three years, Signal has also been investing in more infrastructure and features to support its users. That’s a good thing: Signal first saw an increase in users in the spring as people participating in anti-racist protests around the killing of George Floyd realized how closely law enforcement was surveilling them and asking companies to hand over user data. It’s only become more popular since then. As of this writing, Signal is at the top of the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, and its two-factor authentication onboarding system even got briefly delayed Thursday because so many people were trying to sign up.
So, thinking about joining Signal? Bottom line: If you care about privacy, it’s a good idea. Here’s what you need to know.
OK, so what is Signal?
Signal is a free, privacy-focused messaging and voice talk app you can use on Apple and Android smartphones and via desktop. All you need is a phone number to join. You can text or make voice or video calls with friends, either one-on-one or in groups, and use emoji reactions or stickers just like in other apps. But there’s one big difference: Signal is actually really private.
Is the Signal app secure?
Communications on Signal are end-to-end encrypted, which means only the people in messages can see the content of those messages — not even the company itself. Even sticker packs get their own special encryption.
Signal created the encryption protocol (basically, the technical way you implement this) that other companies including WhatsApp and Skype use. Plainly put, it is the gold standard of privacy.
Is Signal really private?
Yes — and that privacy goes beyond the fact that the content of your messages is encrypted. You can set messages to disappear after certain customizable time frames. Plus, Signal collects virtually no data on its users. The only information you give the app is your phone number, and the company is even working on a way to decouple that from using Signal by making encrypted contact servers. If the police come knocking to Signal for data on its users, it says, truthfully, that it has no data to hand over…Read more>>