In an effort to compete with other messaging services, Open Whisper System’s Signal — a secure chat service known for its commitment to privacy — now lets users make encrypted video calls. The feature is in open beta, and adds to its existing end-to-end encrypted chat and voice-calling service.
The open beta is available to both iOS and Android users, though you’ll have to opt in first. The feature is rolling out gradually, but it will eventually be enabled by default, likely when it comes out of beta. If you have received the update, go to Signal’s Settings > Advanced > Video calling beta to turn it on.
The company says calls should sound better, but the new calling system will only work with “Signal users who have both enabled the video calling beta.”
The new update also enables support for Apple’s CallKit in iOS 10, meaning iOS users will be able to answer calls directly from the lock screen with one touch, and calls will also appear in your “Recent Calls” list. Unfortunately, these conveniences may compromise your security as CallKit syncs this data to iCloud. Data such as who you called and how long you talked for could be vulnerable.
Thankfully, Signal lets users decide if they don’t mind giving up that data for convenience — head to Signal’s Settings > Advanced > Use CallKit to opt in or out.
Signal made a name for itself through the end-to-end encryption of its text messages and it has even been endorsed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Open Whisper Systems has had to add more mainstream features like GIF search and stickers to retain users, though. The service faces increasing competition — Facebook Messenger and Google’s Allo, for example, allows users to start end-to-end encrypted chats whenever they want.
WhatsApp previously worked with Open Whisper Systems to develop its own form of end-to-end encryption, which it rolled out last year. Facebook-owned WhatsApp boasts exponentially more users than Signal, likely because it retains an emphasis on social features like location sharing. Signal’s privacy-first ambitions are somewhat at odds with many of the features mainstream users expect and want out of a communications platform, presenting a bit of a catch-22 for the service.
Still, the introduction of video calling could go a long way toward keeping and attracting users.
Article originally published in February. Updated on 02-14-2017 by Julian Chokkattu: Added official update news of Signal’s video calling feature.
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