In a highly anticipated move, privacy-focused messaging app Signal is testing a new feature that will allow users to communicate without revealing their phone numbers. Public usernames are currently in the staging phase, as confirmed by Signal's VP of Engineering, Jim O'Leary.
O'Leary describes the staging environment as "a parallel Signal universe" where users must install a separate app build and create a new account using a phone number, which can be the same as the number used in the production version.
However, communication in this test realm is limited to others who have also registered for staging. O'Leary sets expectations by warning of potential downtime and unreliable push notifications during this phase.
To participate in testing, users are instructed to register for a staging account and adjust settings to create a username as the primary contact method.
The app's various functions, such as creating and sharing usernames, inviting contacts to groups, and managing settings for phone number sharing, are all available for testing.
Desktop users on Windows and macOS can find installers on Signal's website. In contrast, Android users must enroll through Firebase, and Linux users need to add a specific repository to access staging builds.
iOS users face a more complex process, as they must build their own app from the latest source code, with no staging build available in the App Store.
Despite the privacy enhancements, a phone number is still required to register for a Signal account. This feature is meant to let users hide their phone numbers from other users.
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Signal's effort to implement usernames is a significant step toward enhancing user privacy, allowing communication without disclosing phone numbers, thereby reducing the risk of personal data exposure.