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Signal (Finally) Tests Usernames To Replace Phone Numbers

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Signal, the encrypted messaging service, has taken a significant stride in safeguarding user privacy. In a move released recently through a new beta build in their active community forums, the company declared its testing usernames as a fresh way to exchange contact information privately.

This much-called-for move has been unveiled after a series of internal evaluations, according to Jim O’Leary, VP of Engineering at Signal. Acknowledging the critical contribution of the app’s user community, O’Leary noted, “After rounds of internal testing, we have hit the point where we think the community that powers these forums can help us test even further before public launch.”

This unprecedented move for Signal, the encrypted messaging app known for end-to-end security, marks a radical shift from its long-standing requirement for users to register using a phone number, a practice that invites privacy and hacking dangers.

Signal users have always had to share their personal phone numbers to communicate with other users, a strategy that exposed users to significant security risks. These hazards could even extend to one’s number being shared over an unencrypted cellular network or given away to others.

Despite the straightforward concept behind the username feature, its implementation has not been smooth sailing for the messaging app. Signal’s privacy commitment requires it to steer clear from storing or gathering any unnecessary sensitive information, such as usernames. This has presented a considerable challenge to the app’s engineers.

Even though the intention was to release the username feature earlier in the year, Whittaker divulged at a Signal event in Bangalore, India, that the feature is now due to launch in early 2024. She attributed the delay to the time-consuming nature of this structural overhaul.

The beta test, available for Android, iOS, and desktop users, pairs the usernames with a specific set of digits that won’t appear on user profiles. A sneak peek into the new system reveals that users could share their unique usernames through QR codes.

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