From oppressive governments and intelligence services to politicians and child protection advocates, those in power seem to be rather preoccupied with the adverse effects encrypted messaging apps allegedly have on crime, political stability, and even society at large. And Signal, the preeminent open-source messaging app, seems to be drawing the most ire from naysayers.
In 2018, Amazon threatened to drop Signal off CloudFront unless the app got rid of its anti-censorship feature known as domain-fronting. More recently, concerted attacks from political actors and the media against Signal users intensified following the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and the January 6 Capital riots in the US.
One of the latest attacks against Signal was the (disputed) hacking attempt by digital forensics company Cellebrite, whose clients include numerous law enforcement agencies eager to crack down on dissidents and “terrorists.”
Big tech in general - and social media giants in particular - are taking a more proactive stance on what speech is allowed on their platforms. Therefore, it’s no surprise that users are increasingly turning to services that keep their communications unmarred by surveillance and censorship.
In the case of Signal, the growing indignation and attacks from its detractors should be viewed as the best marketing campaign the app could ask for.
Why does power dislike Signal?
The answer is simple, if unsurprising - Signal is still the most secure encrypted messaging app ever made, and it’s available to everyone. Power is furious because Signal works. And it works really well.
In fact, end-to-end encryption is only part of Signal’s growing appeal. In addition to encrypting your messages, the app also retains virtually zero metadata of your conversations. This means that only you can see who sent you a message, and neither Signal nor anyone else who might be trying to eavesdrop on your conversations know who is sending you what.
Whether you’re a political activist or a cybercriminal, the police wouldn’t be able to intercept your Signal messages. For example, in 2016, the feds secretly subpoenaed Signal user data but left pretty much empty-handed: all they got was the user registration date and when they last used it. On the flip side, had the person been using any other messaging app, the police would have gotten their hands on much more than those dates, including the messages themselves.
This is one of the reasons why Signal was the communication app of choice for protesters looking to avoid being spied on by the cops during the 2020 BLM protests. When it comes to messaging apps, this is as secure as it gets, and Signal is the only app to offer this degree of privacy.
It’s not just criminals and spies
Yes, Signal’s unparalleled privacy and security features make it a perfect communication tool for people of less than savory persuasions. With that said, that is no reason to avoid using the app. After all, the fact that criminals like to drink water doesn’t mean you should stop doing the same.
Whether you regard him as a hero or a villain, Edward Snowden, who has been on the run from multiple intelligence agencies for more than a decade, has been using and endorsing Signal for years.
Elon Musk, also known as the "real-life Tony Stark," is of the same opinion. In fact, after a single tweet from Musk, Signal has seen a massive boost in downloads, which catapulted the app to the number one most downloaded app on iOS back in January.
Not long after its meteoric rise, Signal became a target of attacks from the intelligence community in the media. This was not at all surprising, considering that the app makes their jobs that much more difficult. So much so that the FBI had to come up with ANOM - their own messaging app with a secret backdoor, which was “covertly distributed [...] among the criminal underworld via informants.”
Beholden to no one
In an age of invasive user data collection conducted as payment for products and services, Signal bucks another trend: it’s free, and you’re not the product.
Signal is being developed by a non-profit foundation and is mostly funded by donations, which means the app isn’t owned by or beholden to any big tech corporation or government. And since there’s no profit motive, Signal doesn’t have to hoover up your personal data or show you ads just to stay afloat, which lets the developers focus on what’s most important: security and privacy.
Furthermore, Signal is also completely open-source, with the app’s source code available on GitHub for anyone to see and examine. This means that there are no hidden or undocumented features that could be snuck in without anyone noticing, such as cloud storage or covert surveillance functionality.
Finally, Signal doesn’t sacrifice user experience for security. It’s just as easy to use as its corporate-owned competitors, includes a plethora of useful features like disappearing messages, stickers, group chats, and video calls, and is available on every major platform.
With all that in mind, should you consider ditching WhatsApp or Telegram and moving to Signal right now? Our answer is yes, absolutely.
With increasing calls from political actors to give up end-to-end encryption in exchange for catching a few extremists and criminals, it seems that the fight for privacy is far from over. Thankfully, Signal is on the right side of the barricades, and you should be too.
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