Signal app to boost privacy with usernames

Signal, the preferred social messaging app among privacy advocates, is testing out a beta version that hides your phone number and lets you pick a username instead.

The end-to-end encrypted messaging app announced the new upgrade Tuesday. “Keep your phone number private with usernames,” Signal’s new catch phrase states.

The upgrade will allow a person to pick a unique username to hand out to other Signal users for chats instead of their phone number.

“We’re making it possible for people to connect with each other without having to share phone numbers," Signal posted on its X profile.

The person’s phone number will now be hidden by default to all users they chat with (except to Signal users already in the person’s mobile contact list, who have the number anyway).

Signal did clarify that the person’s username is not a handle – as with other social media platforms –and, therefore, will not replace the person’s profile name displayed in chats. The username will be strictly used as a way to initiate contact without handing a phone number.

An optional privacy setting will also block people from searching you out on the app using your phone number.

Although Signal boasts no ads, no affiliate marketers, and no user tracking, "Up until today, anyone who had your phone number–from a party flier, a business card, or somewhere else–could look you up on Signal by phone number and message you,” it said.

The upgrade now allows a user to restrict “Who can find me by my number” by choosing “Nobody,” in settings.

A new feature will also let a person with a username generate a QR code or link as an alternate method for someone to connect on the app.

Signal said the changes are launching to beta users Tuesday and will roll out for everyone else with the latest version of the app installed "in the coming weeks.”

“Our goal is to listen to your feedback, make adjustments, and ensure phone number privacy on Signal is easy and useful for everyone,” Signal said.

Anyone can sign up to be a tester, including those on desktop. iOS users can join via the TestFlight app on the APP store, while Android users can sign up directly to the beta channel on Google Play. Signal notes that as long as a tester doesn't uninstall the regular version of Signal, their message history will remain.

The company said a user can also opt out, choose not to create a username, and allow their phone number to stay visible in all chats and searches.