[REVIEW] : After encrypted messages, Signal guarantees the anonymity of financial transactions

The end-to-end encrypted Signal messaging application has extended to all of its users since November the integration of a confidential cryptocurrency, MobileCoin, Wired said in an article published on January 6. Users can now transfer money with as much discretion as when they send text or video messages to each other. The feature was launched in beta in the UK last June.

According to the founder of MobileCoin, the cryptocurrency has known for several thousand daily transactions. It was created in 2017 on the Stellar blockchain with the support of Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of Signal, in the same spirit that he created his messaging application: to escape surveillance. Its technical attributes make transactions less traceable than on the Bitcoin blockchain, which could give it the anonymity of cash. MobileCoin is not yet accessible to US users (i.e. with US IP address).


Wired and TheVerge question the consequences of such a system for regulators. Highlighting the risks of attracting illegal activities to the platform, raised by some of its employees themselves since the start of the project, they wonder if this is not blessed bread offered to supporters of a regulation of encrypted messaging.

The United States and the European Union are seeking to pass texts requiring these couriers to create ‘backdoors’ to allow access to encrypted conversations in the context of judicial investigations. In October, Signal opposed an end to American justice as part of a criminal investigation conducted by the FBI, which sought to obtain data from its email.

Financial transactions could constitute a new angle of attack to regulate the encryption of messaging, insofar as the laws on money laundering and the “KYC” (know your customer) regulations, intended in particular to prevent the financing of terrorism. , already exist. Much less popular than WhatsApp (also end-to-end encrypted), Signal is said to have 40 million monthly active users.

However, like her peers, she is faced with the issue of monetization, made complex by its secure nature. WhatsApp paid the price when it sought to modify its terms of use to simplify the connection between users and merchants. The right equation between guaranteeing user privacy, adding new features and monetizing the service remains delicate and has not yet been found.

Signal: WhatsApp co-founder becomes new interim boss

It’s a new year and I’ve decided now is the right time to replace myself as the boss of Signal.

I have been working on Signal for almost ten years now. My goal has always been for Signal to grow and sustain beyond my participation, but four years ago that still wouldn’t have been possible. I wrote all the code for the Android app, I wrote all the code for the server, I was the only person on call for the service, I facilitated all the product development, and I managed everyone. I could never quit calls, had to take my laptop everywhere with me in an emergency, and sometimes found myself sitting alone on the sidewalk in the rain late at night trying to diagnose a degradation in service.

Today, the messaging has 30 employees. There are engineers, designers, support staff, as well as a management team. Moxie Marlinspike notes that he writes little code today and thinks Signal is doing very well with the current team. He therefore decides to leave the service.

Brian Acton, the co-founder of WhatsApp, becomes the new interim boss of Signal. He was already a member of Signal’s board of directors. Moxie Marlinspike also remains on the board, despite being no longer the leader. He will step down in February.

WhatsApp co-founder is now Signal CEO

Signal CEO has announced his departure and WhatsApp co-founder Brian Ancton is now the interim CEO of the encrypted messaging app.

Although Acton is assuming the role for now, it is not clear whether the WhatsApp co-founder will remain in this role.

I’ve spoken to candidates over the past few months, but I want to open the search with this ad to help find the best fit for Signal’s next decade. Don’t hesitate to contact us if that’s you!

I will continue to remain on the Signal board, determined to help manifest Signal’s mission from this role, and will step down as CEO within the next month to focus on finding candidates.

Brian Acton, who is also on the Signal Foundation board of directors, volunteered to take on the role of interim CEO during the research period. I have every confidence in his commitment to the mission and his ability to animate the team for this period.

The funny thing here is that after each controversy over WhatsApp, users have focused on its app competitors, such as Telegram and Signal. Last January, for example, several technology leaders launched a campaign to get users to switch from WhatsApp to Signal with the “Use Signal App” campaign.

The application is very popular with those who do not want to be followed by chance and people who need secrets to communicate. While Brian Ancton isn’t expected to make big moves as Interim CEO of Signal, it’s important to note that he quit WhatsApp after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wanted to use ads on the app. .

In an interview with Forbes, Ancton said in 2018 that Facebook executives wanted to start targeting ads to users and sell business analytics tools, and then he decided to leave the company. That said, it’s important to note that after leaving Facebook, Ancton began to advocate more against the company by asking users to remove the main Facebook app in 2019.

Although WhatsApp does not use ads on its app and claims that all chats are end-to-end encrypted, the company still wants to use the business analytics toll as many companies around the world use WhatsApp primarily as a medium. to sell their products.

Signal: Could the introduction of crypto payments ultimately harm the foundation?

Eight months ago, the encrypted messaging service Signal announced that its users could make transactions with the crypto MobileCoin. Within the company itself, one wonders about the reaction of the American regulator, which immediately draws a parallel between encrypted messaging, cryptocurrency and illicit activities.

After a test phase, the payment service has now been available since November across the globe.

Risks of criminal activity on the Signal platform

“I wish for a world where not only can you be sure that your privacy is respected when you speak to your therapist on Signal, but also have the option of paying for it on voicemail. “

So says Moxie Marlinspike, founder of Signal, about the implementation of crypto transactions on messaging. Why MobileCoin rather than another currency? Because its carbon footprint is negative and it is very fast and above all untraceable.

However, this integration was done with relative discretion, going through a test phase in the United States. Signal did not wish to make an announcement for fear that the American regulator would come to put its nose in their business. Recently, MobileCoin has noticed a massive adoption of its currency, notably thanks to Signal, going from a few dozen transactions per day to hundreds of thousands.

The goal with MobileCoin is to make payments as anonymous as cash payments. The main fear of financial authorities is to let Signal users pay for illicit activities, such as buying drugs, laundering money or human trafficking.

Regulation: who wants the skin of encrypted messaging?

Other messaging services have already considered crypto payment solutions. We think in particular of Facebook with Novi. What makes Signal different from the tech giant? It is a fully encrypted messaging which guarantees you complete confidentiality. By integrating this kind of function, Signal automatically places itself under the regulator’s radars.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution does not at all guarantee the protection of the anonymity of transactions, and this is why financial authorities are taking a very close interest in these services to apply very strict penalties.

For now, the future of encrypted messaging in cryptocurrencies could look complicated, especially if they clash with the interests of the US government.