What is Signal? How to use the encrypted messaging app

Encrypted messaging app Signal has been around since 2015, but has seen a resurgence in the wake of protests over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody. Some protesters and activists prefer the app over other methods of communicating because of Signal’s secure and private messaging system. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the app and how it works, we’ve broken down what Signal is and how to use it.


What is Signal messenger?

Signal allows you to send texts, phone calls, videos, files, video phone calls, and your location for free using end-to-end encryption. This means that your conversations can only be read or listened to by you and the people with whom you’re talking.

It looks and works like any other messaging app, and uses your name and real phone number to look up and contact people you already know. 

Is Signal safe/private?

Signal keeps people’s messages hidden if their phones are stolen, hacked, or confiscated by police. Even if third parties were to gain access somehow, your messages would appear in a code that they would be unable to decipher. 

There was a security vulnerability last month that could have allowed bad actors to track a user’s location, but Signal has reportedly patched the problem.

How does Signal compare to WhatsApp and others?

While WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger also have end-to-end encryption messaging, these apps still collect some of your data for advertising purposes. Signal does not allow advertisers — and more importantly, the government — to access your messages.

Signal is also an open-source app run by an independent nonprofit, which means that anyone with the knowledge and expertise can review Signal’s program to ensure there are no flaws in the system. 

How to use Signal on iOS and Android

Signal works on both iOS and Android devices, as well as on desktops, and is free to download. 

As part of the setup process, you’ll have to enter your phone number and a code sent to your phone number to verify your identity. You will also be required to create a four-digit pin code for further security verification. 

Once you’re all set up, you can freely send and receive messages to other Signal users. Signal will sync up with your phone’s contact list and show you other people in your contacts that use Signal. 

A unique feature of the messaging app is the option to delete individual conversations after a designated amount of time. To enable this feature, just click on a user’s profile and make sure the “Disappearing Messages” feature is toggled on. 

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