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Signal Ditches Phone Numbers for Usernames as Privacy Concerns Heightens

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By Dewey Olson - - 5 Mins Read
A person opening the Signal app on a smartphone
Photo | Shutterstock

After a successful pre-beta phase, the popular encrypted messaging app Signal has officially eliminated the need for phone numbers to enhance user privacy.

Thus, this innovative update means that users can now connect with others on Signal using a unique username instead of their phone number.

While a phone number is still required for registration, it will no longer be visible to anyone using the latest version of the app unless it has been saved in their contacts.

Currently, this feature is only available to beta users, but it is expected to be rolled out to all users in the coming weeks. Signal's commitment to private communication is evident in this update.

In addition to safeguarding messages, profile information, contacts, and groups, Signal now allows users to decide whether or not to disclose their phone numbers to others.

By creating a distinct username, users can communicate on Signal while keeping their phone number hidden from other users.

Signal's President Meredith Whittaker, while speaking to Wired, made it clear that the social media app made the decision in a way to safeguard users in high-risk environments.

“We want to build a communications app that everyone in the world can easily use to connect with anyone else privately."

"... The phone number is really sensitive information, and I don't feel comfortable having that disseminated broadly,” he told Wired.

The newly introduced username feature does not serve as a permanent handle visible to chat partners on Signal but rather as a means to initiate conversations with other users.

Furthermore, Signal has introduced a privacy setting that gives users control over who can discover their identity via their phone number on the platform.

Users can prevent others from finding them by selecting the "Nobody" option unless they know their unique username.

Moreover, this setting also extends to users with the phone number saved in their contacts.

Three key changes have been implemented in the new features, which are currently available in the beta version and set for release in the final version soon.

Firstly, user phone numbers will not be visible in their Signal profile by default.

Secondly, users can create and share a unique username or QR code to connect with others.

Once messaging starts, users will see the chosen profile name instead of the username.

Finally, a new feature recommends hiding phone numbers and discoverability, providing an extra layer of security.

Signal has constantly upgraded its platforms to improve user-friendliness and privacy.

Signal's recent enhancement of phone number security allows for more secure communication, especially for high-risk users such as journalists and activists.

Users can interact with others without revealing personal contact information by using usernames instead of phone numbers.

While some critics may still question the requirement of providing a phone number upon registering for Signal, it is acknowledged that this is essential for security purposes.

Phone numbers help prevent the creation of multiple accounts and facilitate the automatic population of contacts from the user's address book.

According to Whittaker, whether viewed positively or negatively, a phone number remains a fundamental requirement for Signal, which privately collects it from its users.

This is partly due to the fact that it prevents scammers from creating multiple accounts since phone numbers are not abundant.

Moreover, phone numbers are what enable anyone to install Signal and have it automatically populate with contacts from their address book, a crucial aspect of its user-friendliness.