Signal AMA on Reddit: Team reveals future plans and discusses privacy, security, and funding

The privacy-focused messenger, Signal, is experiencing record growth, partly due to WhatsApp's changes, its usage in the Hong Kong protests, and Elon Musk promoting it. To better engage with their users, many of which are new, they held an AMA on Reddit to answer questions about the app.

The Signal Private Messenger team hosted its first Ask Me Anything (AMA) event on Reddit’s Technology subreddit. They were overwhelmed with hundreds of questions but answered as many as possible within three hours. I combed through all of the questions and answers and recorded everything noteworthy.

Will Signal ever have user IDs?

One person asked if Signal would ever allow user IDs instead of making people use phone numbers. The team answered, “Yeah, we’re working on it!”

Will Signal ever sell the service?

Another person asked what reassurances Signal could give that they wouldn’t sell the software and service to another tech company, like Facebook. The Signal team stated that they had done two things to prevent that from ever happening.

First, we’ve designed the app from the ground up to not know anything about anything. Unlike other apps, we don’t have access to your contacts, your groups, your messages, your images, your searches, etc. So we don’t have access to any of your data to begin with, even if we wanted to do something with it (which we don’t).

Second, we’ve structured the project as a non-profit entity, so it can never be bought, has no investors, and isn’t “owned” by anyone. We did this because we wanted to be “for” something other than profit, and we wanted to make sure the organization was only incentivized to create something that is in the best interest of the people who depend on it.

Signal Team

Will there be a way to backup chat history in Signal?

As many Signal users know, chat history isn’t saved. That means when you add Signal to a new device, there isn’t a way to read past conversations on it. The team was asked if they would ever support backing up chat history to restore it on another device.

The Signal team said they knew chat history was a big deal to many of their users and that they were working “on ways to do it that would be privacy-preserving.” However, they did point out that they do have device-to-device transfer on iOS.

How is Signal funded?

Someone asked how Signal was funded because they want to make sure they stick around. The team said that Signal is a non-profit and is directly supported by donations. They also said:

We will never sell ads, and we’ve designed Signal to not know anything about anything (including no trackers or analytics), so we couldn’t target ads even if we wanted to (which we don’t).

Signal Team

Will Signal ever support simple rich text editing, like Markdown?

Signal currently only supports plain text. Someone asked the Signal team if they would ever support rich text editing. They answered, “Yes, they are working on it.”

Can messages be read if Signal’s servers are compromised?

Privacy and security are at the core of why Signal exists, which is why someone asked the team if it was possible to read messages on their servers if they were ever compromised. The Signal team provided a lengthy answer to this critical question.

Everything in Signal is end-to-end encrypted and the app is designed to keep your data in your hands rather than ours. This blog post goes into more detail, but here’s a relevant excerpt:

“… we never have access to the contents of the messages you send; they are only visible to you and the intended recipients. However, Signal also applies this design philosophy to the rest of your data as well.”

“Unlike any other popular messaging apps, Signal also does not have access to your contacts, social graph, group data, group membership, profile name, profile avatar, location data, gif searches, etc. – and we don’t include trackers, ads, or analytics in our software at all.”

Signal Team and “Looking back at how Signal works, as the world moves forward

The Signal team reiterated that it had been meticulously designed not to know anything about anything. “Signal doesn’t have your groups, your contacts, your messages, your searches, etc.”

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Jon is the founder and Managing Editor of Coywolf. He has over 25 years of experience in web development, SaaS, internet strategy, digital marketing, and entrepreneurship. Follow @henshaw