Social Network Spotlight: Signal

The number of end-to-end encrypted messaging apps grows larger every day. While they’re not all about State secrets and Edward Snowden, arguments abound for and against message encryption.

Signal is a bare bones messaging application for iPhone and Android, specializing in secure and encrypted communication between users. The app is open-source and doesn’t generate revenue. Consequently, Signal doesn’t upload or store user data to serve ads. This consumer-conscious absence of gathering user information pushes it to the head of the class, edging other well-known encrypted apps like WhatsApp.  

Pros

  • End-to-end encryption
  • Completed a formal security audit successfully
  • No-revenue company with no reason to sell user data
  • Easy to use interface
  • Uses phone contact list, so no easy communication with strangers

Cons

  • Can be used by criminals to hide communications
  • Child predators regularly use encrypted apps
  • Disappearing message feature could be used for hiding sexting
  • Parents might not be familiar with the app and it could be overlooked

Tips for educators

  • As with all messaging apps, the safest way to ensure students are being responsible is to make sure they know an adult can, and will, see their screens at any time.
  • Signal allows users to send “disappearing” messages, much like Snapchat, but the feature can be disabled in the app.
  • Signal has very few menus and options, so there are few barriers for an adult wanting to check in on a student’s activity.
  • Signal pulls from existing contacts on the user’s phone, so beware of unfamiliar names and numbers.

Wrap up

Signal is the market leader for security-focused messaging apps with end-to-end encryption. While many students aren’t seeking a totally secure messaging solution, using Signal doesn’t present danger within the app itself. Users aren’t able to connect with a stranger, join a chat room or submit photos to a possible predator solely by downloading the app.

Given that Signal is basically a more secure version of simple SMS messaging, the only way to ensure safety and responsibility is to keep an open dialogue and clear understanding of expectations and online privacy. The biggest concern for educators and parents should be that Signal uses a student’s existing contacts.

Social Network Spotlight: Signal Click To Tweet

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The Gaggle Safety Team continues to discover websites and apps that pose potential risks to students. Here's a popular and ever-growing list of "Top Social Networks & Apps Your Kids Use."