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Big Brother: Recent subpoena response reveals exactly how much data Signal collects about you

SIgnal has emerged as one of the most trusted encrypted messaging services around the world today.
SIgnal has emerged as one of the most trusted encrypted messaging services around the world today. (Unsplash)

In a display of its private-by-design approach, the service has revealed exactly how much (or how little) user data it collects, after a subpoena requested addresses of some users, their names and correspondence.

Encrypted messenger service Signal has been growing in popularity, thanks to Facebook-owned WhatsApp’s upcoming changes to its terms of service, but the non-profit organisation behind the company doesn’t want its service to be known only as a WhatsApp alternative. In a display of its private-by-design approach, the service has now revealed exactly how much (or how little) data it collects about its users.

Also read: Popular iPhone forensic app partially unavailable after Signal blog post: Report

On Wednesday, Signal stated that the service had received its second legal request for data about its users from a grand jury, and stated that it had very little information to offer. A subpoena is a legal process of summoning the submission of evidence, as records or documents, before a court. Just like the previous instance in 2016, Signal says was only able to provide the timestamp (in milliseconds) for when a user account was created and the date that the account last connected to the Signal service. Signal publishes these details on a section of its website aptly titled ‘Big Brother’.

According to Signal, this was the information that the service was able to reveal in response to the subpoena. 
According to Signal, this was the information that the service was able to reveal in response to the subpoena.  (Signal Messenger LLC)

The subpoena asking for information of six Signal accounts was issued in March from the United States Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California, and the encrypted messenger service was helped by lawyers Brett Max Kaufman and Jennifer Granick of the American Civil Liberties Union. The subpoena had requested personal information of those accounts, including but not limited to addresses of the users, their correspondence, plus the names associated with those accounts.

Read more: Researcher claims Mark Zuckerberg uses Signal, app tweets he is ‘leading by example’

“Just like last time, we couldn’t provide any of that. It’s impossible to turn over data that we never had access to in the first place. Signal doesn’t have access to your messages; your chat list; your groups; your contacts; your stickers; your profile name or avatar; or even the GIFs you search for,” the company stated, explaining that the end-to-end encryption employed by the service which is usually available from other apps “simply doesn’t exist” on Signal’s servers.

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