Messaging company Signal has embarked on testing a new privacy-focused feature, enabling users to interact without revealing their phone numbers. The organization is currently examining this functionality within a separate staging environment, intended for the pre-beta phase of development. Signal's VP of Engineering, Jim O'Leary, reveals that the username feature is situated in a parallel Signal universe, requiring new builds and accounts.
“Think of The Staging Environment as a parallel Signal universe: you'll need to install and run a new build, and register for a new account with a phone number (you can use the same one you're using in Production),” O'Leary said. “Anybody you wish to talk with in Staging needs to be registered in Staging as well. We have no uptime guarantees in Staging, and it's likely that push notifications won't work as well, or potentially at all, during your testing.”
Staging Environment Specified
For those participating in the trial, it is necessary to install new staging builds and register anew, potentially using the same phone number as before. While the staging platform offers no uptime guarantees and might have limited notification functionality, it is essential for the fine-tuning of this latest feature. In this environment, Signal users can set up usernames, exchange username links, alter phone number sharing configurations, and group-invite others, all aiming to refine user anonymity and privacy.
To embrace this enhancement, Signal users can download pre-beta build versions, which are updated daily. Desktop users are facilitated with macOS and Windows installers on the community site, Android users through Firebase enrollment, and Linux users via the Desktop Alpha apt repo. While iOS staging builds aren't available through the App Store, tech-savvy users can compile their own using the latest available source code. A linked desktop application necessitates prior registration using an Android or iOS device in the staging setting.
Future of Signal's Username Initiative
Signal's move to develop a username system has been in the pipeline for some time. Despite currently requiring a phone number for registration, users soon might possess the option to share it with no one, effectively employing usernames as their primary contact identities. This anticipated change could set a new standard for user privacy within the realm of encrypted messaging services.
Signal has previously had controversies around security, but the company has been implementing improvements in recent years. Back in 2020, Facebook banned Signal when the company showed ads highlighting how much data the social media network was collecting.