How different is Signal from WhatsApp?

WhatsApp’s rival messaging app Signal gained recognition as WhatsApp users looked for alternative apps. Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s tweet encouraging users to switch to Signal also gave an extra lift.

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Recently, Facebook-owned WhatsApp updated its privacy policy, prompting several users to look for alternative platforms. That search led them to few available rival messaging apps. Top among them is Signal, a California-based app, run by a not-for-profit organisation.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s tweet encouraging users to switch to Signal has given the privacy-focussed app an extra lift.

What is Signal Messenger?

Signal Messenger was founded by Moxie Marlinspike and Brian Acton in 2018. Apparently, Acton is also the co-founder of WhatsApp. He left the Facebook-owned company three years after the social network bought it for $19 billion.

Signal Foundation’s aim to provide its users an encrypted messaging app. The application is open source, and in fact, WhatsApp currently uses Signal’s end-to-end encryption protocol.

How is it different from WhatsApp?

Messages sent through Signal are said to be encrypted, meaning the platform cannot access private messages or media, or store them on their server.

Also Read | WhatsApp says latest update does not change its data-sharing practices with Facebook

While WhatsApp also provides end-to-end encryption for messages, it can access other private information like IP address, group details and status. The company also does not encrypt messages stored on the cloud. Even Telegram, another rival messaging app, is said to store user’s contact number and user ID.

However, if the devices are offline, Signal will store certain messages on its server until messages are delivered.

Signal also allows setting a registration lock PIN, which helps users protect private profile information. This number can also be used to retrieve profile, settings, contacts if a user loses the device or switches to a new one.

Another plus point is that Signal isn’t owned by a big technology firm, unlike WhatsApp.

What about user privacy?

The user’s phone number is the only data Signal is said to be storing, unlike WhatsApp.

Also Read | If not WhatsApp, then what? Consider these alternatives

In addition to encrypting messages, Signal service hides another important piece of metadata – who is messaging whom. Through the ‘sealed sender’ feature, the app hides details of the sender and recipient.

Signal also permits the user to relay voice calls to its servers, thereby hiding the user’s identity from contacts. Users can also enable incognito keyboard mode and block screenshots within the app. Recently, the app also added a feature to blur faces automatically before sending pictures.

Signal says it can also determine whether contacts in a user’s address book are Signal users without revealing contacts in their address book to the service.

How to get started?

Signal is available in both Android and iOS devices. Users can also access the app on the desktop. One can get started by registering their phone number and setting up the registration PIN for additional security.

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