Tesla CEO Elon Musk issued a call to ‘Use Signal’ to his millions of Twitter followers. Other famous endorsers of the app include Edward Snowden and former WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton. Jack Dorsey CEO of Twitter and Square said
“I trust Signal because it’s well built, but more importantly, because of how it’s built: open source, peer reviewed, and funded entirely by grants and donations. A refreshing model for how critical services should be built.”
Signal on Saturday wrote on its official Twitter handle “Look at what you’ve done” with a picture showing Signal ahead of WhatsApp on top charts.
So what is Signal and who created it?
It is a free messaging app with a focus on privacy, and the service is end-to-end encrypted just like WhatsApp but collects minimal user data. Signal is available for iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows, Mac and Linux. Actually, WhatsApp uses the Signal protocol for its end-to-end encryption feature. But unlike WhatsApp, Signal is not owned by Facebook.
The app was developed by the Signal Foundation and Signal Messenger LLC and it is a non-profit company. The app created by Moxie Marlinspike, American cryptographer and currently CEO of Signal Messenger.
The Signal Foundation was created by WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton and Marlinspike. Acton, who left WhatsApp back in 2017, has put in around $50 million to help with funding Signal.
The foundation’s mission is to “develop open source privacy technology that protects free expression and enables secure global communication.”
Features of Signal
Users can send and receive text and audio messages, make audio and video calls with their friends, as well as group calls, video calls, share photos, videos and links,
An interesting feature is that unlike WhatsApp you can send messages to yourself just like keeping a journal by using the “Note to Self” button.
You can also reply to messages individually and use emojis and you can delete messages from the chat for everyone by using the “delete for everyone” button.
You can also set disappearing messages on for each individual chat and choose the time ranging from 5 seconds to one week for the messages to disappear.
You can create groups on Signal, which are limited to 150 members.
Another good feature of Signal is that If you do create a group, people are sent an invite and they have to accept the invite to join the Group, unlike WhatsApp where someone who has your contact can often add you straight to a group without your consent. And unless you change the setting on WhatsApp, everyone can directly add to you a group.
Signal does not have dedicated business accounts for small, medium enterprises or larger enterprises like WhatsApp does. However, a business can join Signal as a regular account to contact users, but you will have the option of blocking any contact.
Unlike WhatsApp, Signal does not have ‘Status’ where you post updates yet. However, this feature was not originally on WhatsApp.
Devices and Back up on Signal
You can use Signal on your iPad or laptop, and link the account to the one on your phone. However, chat history is not transferred when you link devices because all message history is stored on the individual device itself.
Signal says all messages, pictures, files, and other contents are stored locally on your device. So unlike WhatsApp were chats are backed up on Google Drive or iCloud. So, if you lose access to your old phone, and set up Signal on a new device, all previous chats will be gone. However, if you have your old device, you can transfer the data, but if you lost your phone or cleared the data on your phone, or changed your number, then chats cannot be restored.
Signal Privacy features
‘Relay Calls’ allows calls go through a Signal server to avoid revealing your IP address to your contact although this might reduce call quality, according to Signal, and might not be necessary for everyone.
You can turn on or off Read Receipts, as well as the option to turn on or off typing indicators to show when a message is being typed. Also, there is no feature like Status as seen on WhatsApp, which can show when you are online.
Signal also lets users turn off link previews from websites if you send those in messages.
You can set a security PIN to keep your account safe and you can set PIN reminders to ensure that Signal keeps asking you for the same. If you forget the PIN it can’t be recovered, but you can change it from the setting. However, if you forget the PIN you might lose access to your account.
Signal’s Screen Lock feature, let’s you use Touch ID, FaceID or your iOS device’s passcode to access the app. However, incoming calls and message notifications can be answered even if the Screen Lock is enabled.
The data collected by Signal
The app also stores some additional technical information on its servers, which includes “randomly generated authentication tokens, keys, push tokens, and other material that is necessary to establish calls and transmit messages.” The company says it “limits this additional technical information to the minimum required to operate the Services.”
Signal does not store your messages or any information about your calls on its servers. However, it does queue “end-to-end encrypted messages on its servers for delivery to devices that are temporarily offline.” Example being where a phone’s battery is dead or has lost internet connectivity. Signal says that a user’s message history is stored on their own device.
Signal also makes it clear “cannot decrypt or otherwise access the content of your messages or calls.”
Regarding other contacts, Signal says it can “optionally discover which contacts in your address book are Signal users.” It does so using a service, however, it adds that this information of a user’s contacts is kept secure.
According to Signal this information “may be cryptographically hashed and transmitted to the server in order to determine which of your contacts are registered.”
Signal also says it may share some information with third parties to provide some services. For example, instance third-party services, which provide the verification code. It also notes that if a user relies on third-Party Services like “YouTube, Spotify, Giphy, etc. in connection with our Services, their Terms and Privacy Policies govern your use of those services.”
The app makes it clear that it does not “sell, rent or monetise your personal data or content in any way – ever.”
By: Ifunanya Ikueze