How Signal is playing with fire

CyberTech

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Nov 10, 2017
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Today, let’s talk about a little-discussed story that I worry could someday have big implications: the encrypted messaging app Signal’s introduction of anonymous cryptocurrency payments, and the opportunity it could create for regulators around the world who have been looking for an excuse to eliminate end-to-end encryption altogether.

A year ago, Platformer was the first to report that Signal was considering adding cryptocurrency payments to the platform, and it started with MobileCoin. Signal CEO Moxie Marlinspike has served as an adviser to the MobileCoin cryptocurrency, which is built on the Stellar blockchain and is designed to make payments as anonymous as cash. As Wired described it in 2017, “the idea of MobileCoin is to build a system that hides everything from everyone.”

Last year, Marlinspike told me Signal had merely begun some “design explorations” around a MobileCoin integration. “If we did decide we wanted to put payments into Signal, we would try to think really carefully about how we did that,” Marlinspike told me. “It’s hard to be totally hypothetical.”

But in fact, work to integrate MobileCoin was already well underway — just as nervous employees had told me at the time. Signal announced a test of the integration in the United Kingdom in the spring, and it quietly rolled out to the rest of the world in mid-November. (The company’s typically chatty blog had nothing to say about it.) Here’s Andy Greenberg in Wired: