In the wake of the Great Parler Ban of 2021, the popular encrypted messaging app Signal managed to double its users from 20 million to 40 million, practically overnight. This is good news for the company at present—but it also poses some potential problems for the future. Maybe.
Casey Newton reports from his Platformer newsletter:
In the months leading up to and following the 2020 US presidential election, Signal employees raised questions about the development and addition of new features that they fear will lead the platform to be used in dangerous and even harmful ways. But those warnings have largely gone unheeded, they told me, as the company has pursued a goal to hit 100 million active users and generate enough donations to secure Signal's long-term future.
Employees worry that, should Signal fail to build policies and enforcement mechanisms to identify and remove bad actors, the fallout could bring more negative attention to encryption technologies from regulators at a time when their existence is threatened around the world.
Interviews with current and former employees, plus leaked screenshots of internal deliberations, paint a portrait of a company that is justly proud of its role in promoting privacy while also willfully dismissing concerns over the potential misuses of its service. Their comments raise the question of whether a company conceived as a rebuke to data-hungry, ad-funded communication tools like Facebook and WhatsApp will really be so different after all.
It sounds kind of wild to think about a non-profit organization that provides free end-to-end encryption suddenly having to contend with content moderation issues (if such a thing were even possible). But that's where the future might be headed. There are already plenty of activists who use Signal for organizing; what's to stop extremists from doing the same, and who defines the difference?
🚨 The battle inside Signal [Casey Newton / Platformer]
Signal's Brian Acton talks about exploding growth, monetization and WhatsApp data-sharing outrage [Manish Singh / TechCrunch]
Image: mikemacmarketing / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)