Signal adds new features: Will it be the new WhatsApp?


Even though WhatsApp is currently doing a lot to solve the confusion surrounding the transfer of user data to Facebook, many users are looking for alternatives. One of the beneficiaries of this fiasco has been Signal – the privacy-centric app that has been around for a while now.

In a bid to gain more users at WhatsApp’s expense, Signal is taking full advantage of the situation by coming up with new features. Will these additional features make Signal a viable WhatsApp alternative? 

Surely you’ve heard about the problems that WhatsApp has brought upon itself. First of all, information leaked out of the USA that the instant messaging app, which officially belonged to Facebook since 2014, would henceforth pass user data over to Facebook and its associated companies. Since then, WhatsApp has been trying to tell angry users that this is not the case, at least in Europe (but to no avail, from what we can gather based on online chatter). WhatsApp has gone so far ahead that it has come up with a privacy FAQ on the WhatsApp homepage.

Even then, users are continuing to look around for alternatives to WhatsApp which – by far – remains the world’s most popular messaging app. One name that pops up repeatedly when there is discussion around WhatsApp alternatives is Signal. In fact, Signal has seen some high profile endorsements recently with the latest coming from none other than Elon Musk on Twitter.

Signal: What are the new features?

Through its official Twitter handle, Signal revealed that they will introduce several new features on both the iOS and Android version of the app later this month. This comes close on the heels of Signal increasing the number of people that can make group video calls. This number was restricted to four people until recently and has since then been increased to eight. Signal also took a sly dig at WhatsApp to announce the launch of this feature. In fact, Signal’s social media team has been on a roll and posted this recently to showcase the surge in the number of people flocking to Signal.

How it started vs how it’s going 😅 pic.twitter.com/ERiFpZUz6c

— Signal (@signalapp)
January 14, 2021
How good is Signal as a WhatsApp alternative?

While it’s definitely commendable as to how Signal is taking advantage of this opportunity and positioning itself as a viable alternative to WhatsApp, we should not blindly run into the next alternative that could very well end up as a data sponge.  But the truth is that compared to other competing instant messaging apps, Signal has already made a good impression when it comes to the degree of permissions that the app requires on your smartphone. 

It’s @signalapp all the way for me pic.twitter.com/ciimnYjtHD

— KT Tunstall (@KTTunstall)
January 12, 2021

Thanks to the new user data protection feature (App Privacy) on Apple’s App Store, it’s pretty easy to check out. As visible in the screenshot below, the app only uses your mobile phone number and thus does not allow it to draw ‘conclusions’ about you based on your contacts, purchases, location, financial information, etc. In comparison, I have included the same screen for WhatsApp.

On the left you can see an overview of user data for WhatsApp and on the right, for Signal. Unfortunately, WhatsApp’s list was too long, hence the data summarized on the left / © Apple / Screenshot: NextPit

Signal support also states that transmitted data is only stored on the devices and is secured during the connection via end-to-end encryption. This is good news, for which WhatsApp once earned a lot of praise.

How many people will actually make the move?

In my opinion, Signal is definitely a viable alternative to WhatsApp and if the developers keep working on new features, it could remain so in the future. And while Signal isn’t the only messenger app that offers more privacy, more diverse features, and other benefits compared to WhatsApp, when it comes to using an alternative to WhatsApp, this could very well be the best available option right now. 

What is more important, though, is to make people ‘breakaway’ from a fully set up messenger, users, and endless chat histories from the past. WhatsApp is currently the best way to stay in touch with almost your entire contact list. Hence, attempts to migrate to a different messaging platform tend to fail because group members do not want to make the switch out of convenience. This, perhaps, is the biggest issue that Signal will face when it tries to retain all of its newly-gained users.

What do you think about switching from WhatsApp to Signal, Telegram, and other alternatives? Did you succeed with this plan or did you have to go back to WhatsApp in the end? 





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