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Signal messenger facing internal opposition over upcoming features: Report

Signal is probably the only app you should be looking to if you want to ensure your messages stay between you and your friends/family/trusted contacts. 
Signal is probably the only app you should be looking to if you want to ensure your messages stay between you and your friends/family/trusted contacts.  (HT Tech)

A new report suggests that the service might be facing pushback from its own employees over the direction of the app’s development and fears that it might be used for dangerous and harmful purposes.

Earlier this month, Facebook sent out an ultimatum to users telling them that they had around a month to agree to the company’s new and updated privacy policy, or stop using the app altogether. Many users didn’t realise that it only affected how other companies (businesses) could contact users,  and downloaded alternatives like the super-secure Signal messenger and the less secure (but feature-rich) Telegram.

Signal continues to ride the wave of anti-WhatsApp sentiments, crossing the 50 million download mark in the week after the backlash from the WhatsApp policy. It recently added WhatsApp features like an 'About' section, chat backgrounds and animated stickers. However, a new report from The Verge is now suggesting that Signal might be facing pushback from its own employees over the direction of the app’s development and fears that it might be used for dangerous and harmful purposes.

Read more: Signal adds more WhatsApp features, says privacy should not be ‘delayed’ or ‘confusing’

The report quotes Gregg Bernstein, a former Signal employee who left the organisation over his concerns, stating that Signal had not considered putting a policy in place regarding identifying and blocking out problematic users from the platform. According to him, the app’s founder had responded to an employee that the non-profit would respond if and when people (eg far-right extremists) started abusing Signal, which had raised concerns that there was no strategy in place to deal with potential misuse.

Signal’s founder Moxie Marlinspike told The Verge that since the app was designed in such a way that employees could not see the content of any messages on the network, there was no requirement of a specific content policy. He also stated that Signal neither algorithmically amplified content like a social media network nor provided lots of opportunities for amplification. Marlinspike was likely referring to features found on WhatsApp or Telegram such as broadcast lists, or multiple message forwarding - features Signal does not currently offer.

Also read: Ready to quit WhatsApp? Here are top 6 reasons why you should download Signal instead

According to the report, the employees are also concerned about the development of app features that they feel could be abused by users, such as payments inside the app (which are likely to be surveillance resistant and privacy friendly) and allowing users to sign up for the app without a phone number, choosing usernames instead.

The latter has been an extremely widely requested feature on the app, that has traditionally required a phone number - which makes it difficult for users with sensitive needs to communicate safely, or just to talk to a random stranger or acquaintance without sharing your phone number with them. There have also been no instances discovered so far, involving fascist or far-right organisations or other dangerous groups using Signal in public.

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Marlinspike also stated that while it was important to him that Signal would not “become neutered in the pursuit of a false neutrality between good and bad actors” he would hire an employee to work on issues related to policy, trust and safety.

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