Encrypted chat app Signal gets a cash injection from WhatsApp co-founding billionaire, Brian Acton
What do you do when you find yourself with more money than you’ll ever practically need? For the world’s richest man, the answer is to buy a giant, impractical clock. For WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, awash with billions after selling his baby to Facebook, the answer seems to be to back another messaging app – albeit one with privacy and security at its very heart: Signal.
Acton, who left Facebook last year, is now free to explore new avenues, but his first turn feels distinctly familiar. With a $50 million investment in Signal, the private messaging app has launched the Signal Foundation with Acton as its executive chairman. The accompanying blog post explains that the foundation will seek to grow the development team behind the app and enhance its privacy-first vision of internet communications.
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“Our plan is to pioneer a new model of technology nonprofit focused on privacy and data protection for everyone, everywhere,” Acton wrote in a contribution to a blog post from Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike announcing the change. “Moxie and his team have built something very special in Signal Messenger and I am thrilled to join their effort to provide the most trusted communications experience on the planet.”
And to be clear, this will be an enormous help. As Marlinspike explains in his part of the post, Signal has always been run on a skeleton staff, because seeking investment or VC funding would be “incompatible with building a sustainable project that put users first.” Subsequently, Signal has been operated by an average of just 2.3 full-time software developers for the duration of its life, with no more than seven full time staffers at any point.
All that changes with Acton’s millions, which means the company “can now increase the size of our team, our capacity, and our ambitions.” Indeed, underneath the blog post is a cheery “we’re hiring” sign, listing calls for server, Android, desktop and iOS developers, as well as a designer.
While Signal’s own encryption protocol has been a part of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Google Allo since October 2016, each service doesn’t quite feel equal in terms of privacy. Indeed, a Wall Street Journal article recently revealed that terrorist organisation ISIS has a preferential list of services for communication, and while Signal gets a place in the ‘safest’ category, Facebook Messenger falls in ‘moderately safe’ with WhatsApp languishing in the ‘unsafe’ pile. Its unclear how scientific this is, but even if it’s just a hunch, Signal’s privacy-first mission statement clearly shines through. It remains CIA whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s first choice, too.
“The stories that make it back to us and keep us going are the stories of people discovering each other in moments where they found they could speak freely over Signal, of people falling in love over Signal, of people organising ambitious plans over Signal,” Marlinspike writes. “When we receive a subpoena for user data and have nothing to send back but a blank sheet of paper. When we catch that glimpse of “Signal blue” on a metro commuter’s phone and smile.”
With the extra funding, it looks like the team are going to be doing a lot more smiling over the coming months.