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Signal App Stands Firm on Privacy Amid Online Safety Bill Controversy

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Gherardo Fiorenzo
Gherardo Fiorenzo is an Italian author with a unique perspective shaped by his experiences in Italy and the US. His thought-provoking articles, short stories, and reviews explore the intersections of language, identity, and culture.

Signal App Affirms Commitment to Privacy Amidst Online Safety Bill Controversy

During her appearance at GamingIdeology Disrupt 2023, Meredith Whittaker, president of the Signal Foundation, emphasized that Signal would be willing to leave the U.K. if forced to compromise its end-to-end encryption by the recently passed Online Safety Bill.

The Online Safety Bill, signed into law in September, contains a clause (clause 122) that, depending on interpretation, could authorize Ofcom, the U.K.’s communications regulator, to break the encryption of apps and services to ensure removal of illegal content such as child sexual exploitation and abuse material.

In case of non-compliance, companies may face fines of up to £18 million ($22.28 million), equivalent to 10% of their global annual revenue under this bill.

Whittaker expressed deep concerns regarding the implications of the Online Safety Bill.

“Our intention is not to make political statements or engage in stunts. If we decide to leave, it’s because we genuinely worry about the surveillance regime that seems imminent in the U.K. and its impact on the people living there,” explained Whittaker.

Whittaker highlighted how Signal prioritizes user anonymity regardless of the laws or regulations in any specific country. When asked about the data Signal has shared with authorities when served search warrants, Whittaker revealed that they only provide limited information, such as the registered phone number and the user’s last account access time.

“We intentionally keep very little data to guarantee privacy. Collecting more data increases the risk of breaches and subpoenas, so we make every effort not to collect unnecessary information,” Whittaker affirmed.

The focus on privacy has played a significant role in Signal’s success. As of January 2022, the app boasted approximately 40 million monthly active users and over 100 million downloads.

Looking ahead, Whittaker expressed hope that encrypted messaging would eventually become synonymous with messaging as a whole. Despite concerns raised by the Online Safety Bill, she pointed out positive developments, such as Meta’s plan to introduce end-to-end encryption on Facebook Messenger and Instagram.

“Communication in the digital realm should respect the longstanding norm of private conversations upheld for hundreds of thousands of years. Whether it’s talking to your boss or a potential employer, these conversations deserve protection from surveillance and the risk of being subpoenaed,” Whittaker concluded.

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