“And for gods’ sakes, download Signal”

Waaaaay back in the day (Around 2000), I enjoyed AOL Instant Messenger. I remember being flabbergasted/impressed that I could voice-call a friend at their university while I was at my university with a mic and some headphones instead of paying for long distance or using up cellphone minutes (And me and a lot of my friends were using Sprint phones, so we didn’t even use SMS messages, but this was the era of “pay extra for 200”). AIM was what I mostly used for a good long while there until Facebook Messenger became a thing occasionally using GChat and SMS/MMS if people wanted to use that instead (As Sprint finally had SMS/MMS available by the time Android phones were a thing and unlimited texts were rolled in with unlimited data)… and then I remember trying to use Meebo for a hot minute which basically consolidated all the various messengers into one API, but for whatever reason it died

Up until relatively recently I was mostly using SMS/MMS and Facebook Messenger (Or Instagram Messenger, which, as far as I can tell, is FBM trying to be snapchat). I knew it was mining all my data and it was occasionally getting annoying how I would mention that a toilet was being weird and then being stalked by ads for Kohler and American Standard for a few weeks… But then I was researching Timnit Gebru for our Black History Month presentation at work, and I followed her on Twitter, and one of the things she retweeted was Alex Hanna’s excellent resignation letter from Google (basically confirming what is well known which is that Google has some Diversity and Inclusion ISSUES). Alex ended the letter with “and for gods’ sakes, download Signal”

Timnit Gebru and Alex Hanna are well vested in Ways Big Tech Companies are Gross right now (seriously, follow @timnitgebru on twitter and you’ll get a week lead-time on what is about to be the new big tech scandal). Also, I reached out to a very smart friend I hadn’t talked-to in a while and THEY were like “Hey, can we use Signal instead?” So when all these smart people I know or wish I knew are like “Hey, use this app because it doesn’t suck”… I’m gonna try.

From what I can tell, Signal will behave like iMessage or Android’s Messages apps when they are talking to other iMessage or Android Messages Devices: Initial contact uses a phone number, messages will be encrypted, there are read receipts and ‘so and so is typing’ notifs, there is no limit on size, you can send stickers and gifs and files, you can voice-chat and video chat (also encrypted). It tends to use WiFi and Cell Data but can also use SMS/MMS architecture and will let you know when it’s the only option available. Thus, instead of suffering the trials and tribulations of the dreaded “green dots” in iMessage or Android Messages suddenly dropping out of “chat”, you get the “I am talking to someone using the same client” behavior all the time.

Also, in addition to i/padOS and Android clients, Signal has clients for Windows, MacOS, and Linux. You can get the same sort of “I want a physical full size keyboard” experience you had with logging into various websites or dedicated computer apps. It has a similar “log into this desktop signal client by scanning a QRCode with your phone” that I’ve seen in Android Messages. Signal is also security conscious in that when you set up a desktop computer app… it WONT pull in all of your previous chat-history. That means you can log into a Signal client on a shared computer in new locations without worrying about all your old conversations suddenly being downloaded and saved to a file somewhere. It also has the disappearing messages feature which are important to some security minded folks.

Finally, Signal is a non-profit that’s running off user donations. It doesn’t ask to keep and sell your data, its code is open source, its algorithms and security procedures are available for scrutiny, and from what I can tell it’s got poison pills against being bought by some other big tech company if it becomes more popular. This means the features are very user-focused and security focused and not just “we’re going to keep adding stuff no-one asked for because we’re scared you’re going to leave for other apps.This makes it that much better than similar security-minded apps like Telegram (owned by some Russian entrepreneur) and WhatsApp (Owned by Meta).

So yeah, should you reach out to me via some sort of messenger, I’ll probably ask if we can switch to Signal, and if you ask why… well, here’s this post.

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