Hello MI Fans,
If you dropped WhatsApp for Signal, here's a crash course on making the encrypted messaging app work for you.
It's been a turbulent year, but Signal come through it on top. The messaging app achieved mainstream status after Black Lives Matter protests, a WhatsApp privacy mishap, and a boost from Elon Musk on Twitter. A flood of sign-ups took it offline briefly this month, but it's back and ready to shield your chats from prying eyes.
What Is Signal?
Signal is an end-to-end encrypted messaging app, which is a complicated way of saying that only the device sending the message and the device receiving it can see the content of messages. If the cops want access to your chats, messages, or files, they'll need direct access to your device because Signal has no record of them.
"We’ve designed the Signal service to minimize the data we retain about Signal users, so the only information we can produce in response to a [law enforcement] request...is the date and time a user registered with Signal and the last date of a user’s connectivity to the Signal service," the app maker said in 2016.
This can be helpful for people who work with sensitive content, like journalists, organizers, or those living under repressive regimes. But it's a double-edged sword, as this level of secrecy on Signal and similar apps can also give cover to bad actors.
Function-wise, Signal is similar to WhatsApp, minus the complicating factor of being owned by Facebook. Signal is run by the nonprofit Signal Technology Foundation, an organization from Open Whisper Systems founder Moxie Marlinspike and WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton that looks for ways to develop open-source privacy software. (Acton left Facebook in 2017 and has been publicly critical of the social network.)
If you're intrigued by Signal, it's free and works on iOS and Android devices, as well as computers, whether they're Mac, Windows, or Linux. We have some tips to get you started.
Signal warns that the disappearing messages feature "is not for situations where your contact is your adversary—after all, if someone who receives a disappearing message really wants a record of it, they can always use another camera to take a photo of the screen before the message disappears." That said, if you do want to utilize them, on Android devices, go to a chat and tap on the timer icon. There you can select Disappearing Messages and set a time for how long they can be seen. On iOS, tap the contact or group name and then in chat settings select Disappearing Messages and set a time limit. On the desktop, go into a chat, select More and then Disappearing Messages to set a time limit.
Since Signal is secure, clearing your history isn't a necessity, but if you like the neatness of no messages, want a clean start, or are worried about your phone in someone else's hands, go to Settings Privacy Clear History Delete Everything.
There's Safety in Numbers
To ensure you have secure communication with a contact, you can verify safety numbers with them either in person or through messages. To do this, open a conversation in Signal, tap the other person's name up top, and select View Safety Number. This will bring up a QR code and strings of numbers. If you are physically with the other person, hover your phone over theirs and select Scan Code at the bottom of the screen.
But what if your safety number changes after getting a new phone or re-installing Signal? Don't worry, Signal verifies safety numbers inside a message. When a message comes in from a user you've communicated with but who has a new safety message, you'll see a notification within the message screen (though you can still proceed with the conversation). Tap the message that says Safety number changed. Tap to verify. Then you can either accept the new safety number in a pop-up right there or click Accept New Safety Number and be led through the manual process again.
The Key to It All
If you're using Signal on a computer, there are lots of keyboard shortcuts, all shown on this handy chart. It's made for Mac users but for Windows or Linux, just substitute Control for Command.
Make Yourself Heard
You can make both voice and video calls on Signal.
One-on-One Calls: For mobile, select the pencil icon and then choose a contact or enter a phone number. On a desktop, enter the number into search or just select a contact. Select the phone icon for a voice call or the video camera icon for a video call. On video calls, you can hide yourself by tapping the video camera icon.
Group Calls: For a group video call of up to eight people, open a group chat with the participants and select the video camera icon.
Reading Is Fundamental
Read receipts are a blessing and a curse. If you want them for Signal, go to Settings Privacy Read Receipts and toggle it to on. The feature requires mutual trust, though; both users need to enable it to see the other's receipts.
This Is a Private Number
For all the ways it addresses privacy, Signal does not give you a way to mask your phone number, oddly. There is no simple solution, but there are things you can do.
As the The Intercept outlines, you can register using a number from a service such as Google Voice or Skype and tie that number to a dedicated device. That second part is easy for Android users because you can set up a second account on your phone. On iPhone, you'll have to either use another iOS device (like an iPad or an iPod touch) or Android device, but that gadget does not need a cellular connection or SIM card.
On the additional device or from the alternate account, install Signal, open it, and type in the phone number you wish to use. You will get a message that authentication failed. Choose voice verification by tapping Call Me. The number you entered will ring and you will hear a voice that will give you a six-digit number. Type that number into the verification box in the Signal app and then select Verify.
This is a messy process, but if keeping your private number private is important to you, it could be worth it.
Signal is a serious platform, but not too serious since it embraces things like stickers. When you go to message a contact, tap the sticky note symbol on the chat box, where you can access sticker packs like Zozo the French Bulldog.
A Real GIF
GIFs are a tap away in Signal. In a chat, tap the plus sign next to the message box and then the GIF button to search Giphy for the perfect meme.
Call Me Maybe
If you get a call from someone who's not in your contacts, you'll first see their profile picture and get a text message request to approve or block them.
New Phone, Who Dis?
You can move your Signal account from one iOS device to another easily if you have both devices on you and Signal is already installed on one. On the new device, download Signal and start registration. Once you verify your phone number, you'll get a prompt on the old device asking you whether you want to transfer your account. Once you confirm you'll get a QR code on the new device. Scan it with the old device and all your info will be moved over.
It's All a Blur
There are lots of reasons why you wouldn't want to show faces in a photo, and last year showed that one of them is because it enables law enforcement to make arrests based on images from protests. When you go to send an image, there are tools displayed at the top. Tap the circle on the left and you'll be able to smudge out faces or other things from the photo, though this is far from a foolproof method of obscuring an identity.
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