The Signal AppPrivacy & Security by Design

June 11, 2020

Over the past week, we have had several parents and teens connect with us about our thoughts on a free messaging app called Signal, which over the past week has become one of the most popular apps being downloaded in both the Apple and Google Play Store.

The Signal app is a fully end-to-end encrypted messaging platform that allows the user to send messages, pictures, GIF’s, video and files, and can also allow voice or video calls with another Signal user in a secure, anonymized and encrypted format. Signal is free to download, and their funding comes from grants and donations since they are a not-for-profit organization, so there are no ads, in-app purchases or analytics on your device when using this app. Signal does not sell any personal information to third parties, and do not store any personal information on the user on their servers. Signal does not share your location by design and does not allow a user to do so. As Signal stated, “We do not believe that security and privacy are about “responsibly” managing your data under our control, but rather about keeping your data out of anyone else’s hands – including our own.” To download the app, a cellphone number is required (no other information) at which time a verification code is texted to that number. Another great feature, the same phone number can’t be used to create multiple accounts. Once you have registered the app on a cell phone, the user can now also link their account to a desktop and iPad version of Signal.

Given that Signal is just a messaging app, its user content is NOT searchable by others, and it can be set up so that anything sent can disappear within a chosen time frame by the sender. Another interesting feature, any picture or video that is sent through the Signal app is not stored on the phone, but rather in the message sent. Once the message has been deleted, so too will the text, picture(s) or video sent. Most recently, Signal has also added a blur feature. This function, which operates on the owner’s device, works by simply tapping the blur icon; any face identified by their AI is now automatically blurred. The app also recognizes that no AI is 100% effective, so it also has a feature that allows the user to manually blur or obscure additional faces, or anything else the sender chooses, in the picture.

White Hatter Opinion:

If you are looking for a fully integrated end-to-end encrypted messaging platform that was built with privacy and security as its foundation, does not collect or sell your personal information or content to third parties, or collect personal information/content that can be subpoenaed by way of a search warrant, then the Signal app is what you are looking for.

However, for parents of teens who are going to use this app, know that there is no way to monitor what is happening in any communications taking place on Signal. I have already seen a small percentage of teens who are using this app as a bridge to connect with people who they first meet on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Periscope and Tinder to have private monetized sexualized communications. Although anything sent on Signal can be automatically deleted after a specified amount of time, anyone can still screen capture content without the sender knowing, which can now be weaponized for the purpose of extortion.

This app has also become a favourite for those involved in criminal enterprises, for obvious reasons, given it allows secure encrypted communications that cannot be intercepted or made available to law enforcement by way of a search warrant or production order. This is one reason why we believe that this app if it hasn’t already, will become a favourite platform for those who want to prey upon our kids for sexual predation and exploitation.

As we have always stated, “It’s not the app, it’s how the owner uses the app that can make it use desirable or less than desirable” Given the above-noted information, we recommend that only teens over the age of 16, or who are showing good digital literacy, have access to this app. We also believe that our primary directive that everything we do online is public, permanent, searchable, exploitable, copiable and shareable should be top of mind when using Signal given that screenshots, that can be weaponized, are still a reality within this app.

Digital Food for Thought

The White Hatter Team

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