Signal, the encrypted messaging service, has commenced public testing of its new feature: usernames. This feature aims to offer users a more secure method of sharing contact information on the app.
The beta testing for this new feature was announced on the app's community forums by Signal's VP of Engineering, Jim O'Leary. O'Leary shared that after thorough internal testing, the feature was ready for broader testing within the Signal community before it was officially launched.
This new development marks a significant milestone for Signal. Historically, users could only sign up for the messaging app by registering a phone number, which had to be shared for messaging purposes. This posed privacy and hacking risks as users had to share their numbers, potentially making them accessible over unencrypted cellular networks or being shared with other users unscrupulously.
Recognizing these concerns, Signal has been exploring ways to introduce usernames since as far back as 2019. Meredith Whittaker, Signal Foundation President, confessed to Time magazine in September 2022 about the plan, which allows users to connect on Signal through usernames without the need to disclose phone numbers.
However, striking a balance between adding this feature and maintaining a staunch commitment to privacy posed a challenge. Signal, she explained, was careful not to store or collect usernames or any sensitive information not necessary for operating the app. Initially, Whittaker hoped that the username feature would be rolled out in the first half of the year but now anticipates that to happen by early 2024.