the messaging app Signal has surged in popularity as users look for alternatives to social networks. Built by California-based developer Signal Messenger LLC, Signal has surged to the top of the Apple App Store and near the top of the Google Play Store, but it is unlike Twitter or Facebook. Instead, it is a secure messaging app, similar to WhatsApp or Apple’s iMessage.
Signal allows users to send texts, videos, audio, or picture messages with end-to-end encryption, just as they would via a normal text message. “Signal’s advanced privacy-preserving technology is always enabled, so you can focus on sharing the moments that matter with the people who matter to you,” the app writes in its description.
Effectively, the message is scrambled right after it is sent, so neither Signal nor anyone else can read the message. Only the recipient can see the unscrambled message. In addition, Signal, which does not store user data, according to its website, also offers a host of other privacy features, including face-blurring, blank notification pop-ups, and ephemeral messages. All message history is stored locally on the device, Signal added. However, there is a limitation to using Signal to send encrypted messages. The end-to-end encryption may be limited if one of the parties is not using Signal, so broader adoption has been one of the app’s largest issues.
It has benefited in popularity after people like Edward Snowden tweeted about it in 2015, with Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently telling his followers to use the service, while simultaneously taking a shot at Facebook.
The signal is another free app that provides encrypted messaging, calling, and video chat. “Encrypted” means that the contents of messages are scrambled until they reach the recipient, and no intermediary can view them. The app is run by the nonprofit Signal Foundation, which launched in 2018 with the help of WhatsApp Co-Founder Brian Acton, who left WhatsApp and Facebook the prior year. Acton said in a 2018 statement announcing the launch of the foundation that Signal aims to build “sustainable technology that respects users and does not rely on the commoditization of personal data.”
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Amid the rush of new sign-ups, Signal is rolling out new features similar to those on WhatsApp, such as wallpaper backgrounds for chats and an “about” section for user profiles. And a new Apple (AAPL) policy requiring that apps provide a label detailing their privacy practices on the App Store may make it easier for users to compare various messaging apps’ policies. Signal did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the rush of new sign-ups. The app has received some high-profile endorsements. Tesla (TSLA)’s Musk on January 7 tweeted: “Use Signal.” Twitter (TWTR) CEO Jack Dorsey retweeted it, and later posted an image of Signal at the top of the App Store chart, captioning it with a heart. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden also retweeted Musk’s post, adding the message: “That’s @signalapp, for those who don’t speak Elon.”
Though their tweets didn’t mention Facebook or WhatsApp, both Musk and Dorsey have previously criticized the social media giant. Some people were apparently confused about Musk’s advice, though. Shares of Signal Advance (SIGL) — a small, Texas-based technology company unrelated to the messaging app — rose more than 6,000% in the days following Musk’s tweet, before tempering on Tuesday. Signal, the messaging app, posted a cheeky tweet about the mix-up, saying: “Is this what stock analysts mean when they say that the market is giving mixed Signals?”