It’s been a turbulent year, but Signal come through it on top. The messaging app achieved mainstream status after Black Lives Matter protests, a WhatsApp privacy mishap, and a boost from Elon Musk on Twitter. A flood of sign-ups took it offline briefly this month, but it’s back and ready to shield your chats from prying eyes.
Signal is an end-to-end encrypted messaging app, which is a complicated way of saying that only the device sending the message and the device receiving it can see the content of messages. If the cops want access to your chats, messages, or files, they’ll need direct access to your device because Signal has no record of them.
“We’ve designed the Signal service to minimize the data we retain about Signal users, so the only information we can produce in response to a [law enforcement] request…is the date and time a user registered with Signal and the last date of a user’s connectivity to the Signal service,” the app maker said in 2016.
This can be helpful for people who work with sensitive content, like journalists, organizers, or those living under repressive regimes. But it’s a double-edged sword, as this level of secrecy on Signal and similar apps can also give cover to bad actors.
Function-wise, Signal is similar to WhatsApp, minus the complicating factor of being owned by Facebook. Signal is run by the nonprofit Signal Technology Foundation, an organization from Open Whisper Systems founder Moxie Marlinspike and WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton that looks for ways to develop open-source privacy software. (Acton left Facebook in 2017 and has been publicly critical of the social network.)
If you’re intrigued by Signal, it’s free and works on iOS and Android devices, as well as computers, whether they’re Mac, Windows, or Linux. We have some tips to get you started.