More and more people are expressing concerns over using popular use messaging apps like Twitter, Instagram, and even standard SMS services. They feel that these apps and services are not secure enough to ensure privacy. That’s while we have seen a huge swell of interest for the Signal app.
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The Signal app is free to download and was developed to send encrypted text, image, audio, and video messages for individuals and groups. It can also be used for encrypted phone calls between Signal users for mobile users. Here’s a quick look at what this app is all about, and why there’s been a sudden surge of new users for it.
What is Signal?
The origins of the Signal app goes back to 2010, when a company called Whisper Systems first launched two Android apps: One was TextSecure, which encrypted text messages, and the other was RedPhone, which did the same for voice calls. In 2011, the company was bought by Twitter and the apps were released as free open-source software.
In 2013, one of the founders of Whisper Systems, Moxie Marlinspike, departed Twitter. He formed another startup, Open Whisper Systems, and continued to develop TextSecure and RedPhone. In 2014, it was announced that the company would merge the two apps into one, with the new name Signal. In 2018, Marlinspike and WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton formed the non-profit Signal Foundation to continue the development of the app, and to keep it free and open-source software.
Recently, there’s been a surge of new downloads for Signal. Most people believe it’s due to changes at another popular encrypted messaging service, WhatsApp. In early January 2021, it revealed that it will change its terms and services agreement, saying that it will start sending personal data to its parent company Facebook. This will begin officially on February 8, 2021. Obviously, many WhatsApp users don’t like this upcoming change and have moved onto Signal.
What platforms support the app?
How does the Signal app work?
The app uses its own open-source Signal Protocol to provide encrypted end-to-end communication between Signal users. That includes encrypted text, group chats, voice messages, photos, and videos for iOS, Android, and PC owners. The Signal Android version can also serve as a phone’s SMS or MMS app, although those text messages won’t be encrypted. The mobile version also supports encrypted voice and video calls. In October 2020, the Signal Foundation announced it had officially added voice and video calls for its PC and iPad apps as well.
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The Signal app is also expanding its support for group chats. Group admins can now be selected, which can add or remove people in the group. There’s also support for @mentions if you want to emphasize a certain person in a group chat. Group links can also be sent out for anyone to join a Signal group.
The creators of the app insist that not only are Signal messages encrypted, but all of the metadata in those messages are hidden as well. In other words, if you have a Signal chat with someone else, only the person who gets your messages will see it.
Also, since the app’s development is being funded by a non-profit corporation, there’s no financial incentive to sell any data. There are no ads and the app will remain free to download and use. Plus, since it’s open-source software, anyone can contribute to its development.
Who recommends the app?
The Verge reports that In February 2020, the European Commission sent a note to its staff members, stating that the Signal app was now the “recommended application for public instant messaging.” Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey is a huge Signal supporter as well. During June 2020, Vox reports that Signal was one of the top 10 most downloaded social apps on iOS, at the height of the massive global Black Lives Matter protests.
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Even our nation’s armed forces use the app. MilitaryTimes reports that the 82nd Airborne’s Task Force Devil, which was deployed to the Middle East in January 2020, was asked to use the Signal app on their smartphones. One thing seems clear: the app gets more popular when there are greater concerns about the privacy, or lack thereof, in standard messaging apps.
How many people use the app?
The Signal Foundation has never disclosed how many daily or monthly users the app has. However, we do know, via the Google Play Store listing, that the Android version of the Signal app has been downloaded over 10 million times.
Other frequently asked questions
Q: Are Signal calls encrypted?
A: Yes. If you make a voice or video call with the app and connect to someone who is also using the app, those calls are fully encrypted, end-to-end.
Q: Can Signal be hacked?
A: Since messages have their metadata hidden, that should keep your Signal messages from being hacked. Even if someone could intercept a Signal message, they could not read it because the message is encrypted. Furthermore, hiding the metadata means that the location of the original message is missing as well.
Q: Can Signal do video calls?
A: The Android and iOS versions of the app can make video calls to individuals, and the PC and iPad apps recently added this feature.
Q: Can Signal do group calls?
A: No, the app does not currently support this feature.
That’s all we have on the Signal app. We will update and expand this post when more features and improvements are added.