Signal, if you haven’t already heard of it, is an encrypted messaging app for both Android and iOS. My experience with Signal doesn’t extend into the iOS realm, but the experience won’t be that different, with the exception of iMessage being thrown into the mix.
There are many good articles about what Signal does, and how it does it. You can start by reading the app’s own page here: https://signal.org. There is no real point, I don’t think, to rewrite something that someone else has already written, probably in a much more elegant way.
Why do I use Signal? I like my communications to be encrypted. Not because I’m worried about law enforcement intercepting what I’m sending to my friends. Not because I’m worried about people stealing my phone and hacking into my SMSes. I like my comms to be encrypted because of all the companies profiting from knowing information about me. I don’t know if a regular SMS is being scanned for keywords by my telco, and that information is being sold to advertisers. But if you switch to an encrypted messaging app, there’s no way for them to do that.
When I talk to people, I often get the question of “How is it different from Whatsapp?”, and while in a broad way it does very much the same thing, there are two differences that sets it apart.
The first is that it replaces your standard SMS app, and only needs your mobile number to work. It will send a regular, unencrypted SMS to your buddies who don’t have Signal, and seamlessly switch to encrypted comms when they finally listen to you and install Signal too. You don’t need to remember how you communicate with whom. It’s all there in the one app. And, as a bit of a cherry on top, the company is a not-for-profit run by privacy wonks.
The second is that it’s not owned by Facebook. Even though Facebook can’t necessarily read what’s in the messages that are sent with Whatsapp, it does give them a map of who is communicating with whom. And the less Facebook knows about me, the happier I am.
Touching briefly on the iMessage thing, it’s, to me, much the same as Whatsapp, but maybe slightly worse. Unless Apple have devised some new cryptographic methods for messaging, they must have access to the encryption keys used for messages if you can recover the messages from iCloud to a new device without access to the old device. This is bad, and means they could potentially read the messages too.
Download Signal today and give it a go: https://signal.org/