Who Owns the Signal App & Is It Safe?: A Closer Look at the Privacy-Centric Messaging App

Messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Telegram have made it easier to connect with our friends, family, and even businesses. Just imagine how difficult it would have been to go through lockdowns during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic without these apps.

Great as these messaging apps are, they come with a catch.

This is definitely the case with Meta’s products like Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. They collect a boatload of data, so advertisers can pay them to show you personalized ads. This practice continues even as Meta has received numerous fines worldwide, including a fine for data malpractice in January 2023

That’s why in January 2021, WhatsApp faced tremendous user backlash when it announced updates to its terms of service and privacy policy. Users were particularly concerned about the data the app would collect and share with its parent company Meta (then Facebook). Many scrambled for alternative messaging apps that won’t sell or share their data as a result, which helped bring Signal into the mainstream.

Signal endorsements from people like NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Tesla/SpaceX/Twitter CEO Elon Musk, and former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey brought new users to the app in droves. 

A screenshot of Elon Musk's tweet telling his followers to use Signal.

Endorsements from the likes of Elon Musk helped boost Signal’s user base in January 2021.

Between January 7 and 10, 2021, the app saw 7.5 million downloads in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. This was a huge jump for an app with only 500,000 users in 2019.

What’s Signal and Who are the People Behind It?

Signal is an app that lets you send messages and make voice and video calls much like most other messaging services. The main difference lies in Signal’s absolute adherence to privacy and security. This isn’t surprising once you take a closer look at the people behind it. 

Let’s start with its creator and former CEO Moxie Marlinspike. He and Trevor Perrin developed the foundation of what would eventually become the Signal protocol. It is a form of end-to-end encryption (E2EE) that platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Skype have since adopted. A privacy advocate, Marlinspike once wrote in his blog about how we should all have something to hide in reaction to growing government surveillance in the United States.

[I]f everyone’s every action were being monitored, and everyone technically violates some obscure law at some time, then punishment becomes purely selective. Those in power will essentially have what they need to punish anyone they’d like, whenever they choose, as if there were no rules at all.

Moxie Marlinspike

Meanwhile, Signal’s interim CEO is WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton. He left WhatsApp in 2017 after a disagreement with its parent company Facebook on how to monetize the app. He and his co-founder Jan Koum wanted to keep the app ad-free, which ran counter to Facebook’s business of selling ads. As soon as he left, he co-founded the Signal Foundation with Marlinspike and injected it with a $105,000,400 zero-interest loan. 

The Signal Foundation relies on donations to keep the service running, unlike apps like Facebook Messenger, which collects user data to sell ads. Signal’s president Meredith Whittaker best described it in an October 18, 2022 interview with The Verge

The Signal Foundation is a nonprofit… [and] exists solely to support the messaging app… This means we don’t have shareholders and we don’t have equity, so we are not being structurally incentivized to prioritize profit and growth over our core mission.

Meredith Whittaker

How Secure is Signal, Really?

Besides having staunch privacy advocates at the helm, Signal combines features that make it one of the most secure messaging apps around. Its world-class encryption algorithms and commitment to collecting virtually no data keep spies and other third parties at bay. Journalist and activist groups even recommend its use over other messaging apps.

Features that make Signal secure include the following:

          • Signal protocol. The app’s end-to-end encryption means only the sender and the intended recipient can read a message. This makes it virtually impossible for third parties — even Signal — to listen in on conversations.

            Signal also uses what’s called a Double Ratchet algorithm to encrypt messages. This generates a new key for every message, which prevents an attacker from reading entire conversations. Even if they intercept and decrypt one message.

          • Open-source. Signal’s iOS, Android, and Desktop source codes are open-source. This allows anyone to examine the code to check if it works as advertised and spot potential security issues. It also makes it easy to verify if the app is indeed as private and secure as the Signal Foundation says it is.
          • No data collection. Like other messaging apps, Signal receives requests from governments and law enforcement agencies to provide user data. Since it doesn’t store data like contacts, conversation list, and location, it consistently responds it can’t provide any information except for timestamps of when an account was created and when it was last online. You can read Signal’s responses in detail on its website’s “Government Requests” page.

A nonprofit organization called Property of the People confirmed Signal’s claims when it obtained an infographic showing what data the FBI can access from various messaging apps. In contrast, the likes of Apple’s iMessage share a wide range of data like contact lists, user information, and IP addresses, contrary to its CEO Tim Cook claiming Apple wants to be a pioneer for privacy.

Of course, Signal’s ironclad security ends when an attacker gains physical access to your device. This is why it’s important to lock your device and the app with a PIN. It’s also smart to enable disappearing messages, which automatically deletes read messages after a set amount of time so you leave no trace.

Probably the most common criticism about Signal’s security is it requires you to register with a mobile number. This may reveal your identity, but the requirement may change soon. Whittaker said in a December 2022 Time Magazine interview the company hopes to allow users to create a username by mid-2023.

As an extra security layer, the Signal app lets you relay calls through its servers so your contacts won’t see your IP address. The downside is it can reduce call quality and could expose your IP to Signal. You can get CyberGhost VPN to prevent Signal and other third parties from seeing your IP and boost your security.

Signal Different Vs. Other Messaging Apps

We’ve already shown how Signal keeps your conversations private and secure, but how does it stack up against popular and privacy-centric messaging apps? Check out the table below to learn more.

    • ️✅ Uses E2EE by default
    • ️✅ Doesn’t collect user data
    • ️✅ Privacy and security are at the core of the app
    • ️❌ Creating an account requires a phone number
    • ️❌ Barebones features versus competitors
    • ️❌ Has a small user base versus big players
Facebook Messenger
    • ️✅ Uses E2EE in the Secret Conversations feature
    • ️✅ All your Facebook friends and other business already use it
    • ️✅ Offers lots of fun features (e.g., filters, backgrounds, stickers)
    • ️❌ E2EE outside Secret Conversations is not yet available to all users
    • ️❌ Collects and shares a lot of user data with parent company Meta and government authorities
    • ️❌ Owned by Meta, a company with a long list of privacy and security issues
    • ️✅ Uses E2EE
    • ️✅ Offers lots of fun features (e.g., filters, backgrounds, stickers)
    • ️❌ E2EE and other features only exclusive to iOS and macOS users
    • ️❌ Has a history of sharing data with law enforcement agencies
    • ️✅ Uses E2EE
    • ️✅ Doesn’t require an email or phone number to create an account
    • ️✅ Uses decentralized servers for added security
    • ️❌ Open group chats don’t get E2EE
    • ️❌ Voice and video calls expose your IP address
    • ️❌ Decentralized servers cause delays in receiving messages and connecting to calls
    • ️✅ Uses E2EE in the Secret Chats feature
    • ️✅ Has over 500 million users
    • ️✅ Offers many safety and privacy features (e.g., self-destructing messages)
    • ️❌ Registration requires a phone number
    • ️❌ E2EE is not available in regular chats
    • ️❌ May display ads in large public channels — requires a premium account to remove them
    • ️✅ Chats have E2EE by default
    • ️✅ Has over 2 billion users
    • ️✅ Offers lots of fun features (e.g., filters, backgrounds, stickers)
    • ️❌ Owned by Meta — has many of the same issues as Facebook Messenger
    • ️✅ Uses E2EE based on the Signal protocol
    • ️✅ Ideal for businesses looking for a private and secure messaging platform
    • ️❌ Requires a paid subscription to get the most out of the app
    • ️❌ Not designed to communicate with people outside work

How to Set Up a Signal Account

Want to give Signal a try? It takes less than five minutes to create an account. All you need is a mobile number and an Android or iOS device. Follow these steps to get started:

  1. Download and install Signal’s latest version from the Google Play Store or App Store.
A screenshot of Signal's download page in the Google Play Store.
  1. Choose if you want to give the app permission to access your contacts. You’ll need it to see who among your contacts are already on Signal.
A screenshot of the Signal interface requesting you to give it access to your contact list.
  1. Enter your mobile phone number and confirm that it’s correct.
A screenshot of the Signal interface where you can enter your mobile number.
  1. Enter the SMS verification code or request a verification call.
A screenshot of the Signal interface where you can enter your verification code.
  1. Enter your profile name. This can be a pseudonym or nickname. You can also add a profile picture (optional).
A screenshot of the Signal interface where you can enter your profile details.
  1. Create an alphanumeric PIN with at least four characters. Don’t forget this because you’ll need it to reinstall Signal or switch mobile numbers in the future.
A screenshot of the Signal interface where you can create your PIN.
  1. That’s it, you’re done! You can now also install the desktop app on your Windows, macOS, and Linux device after creating your account.
A screenshot of the Signal interface where you can start chatting.

Is Signal for You?

If you’re looking for a messaging app that values your privacy and security, Signal certainly ticks the right boxes. It is open-source, doesn’t collect user data, and comes with a robust encryption protocol that even other messaging apps use.

Of course, Signal still has potential security risks. For one, it currently requires you to use a mobile number to create an account. This means giving that number to others if you want them to become a Signal contact. This may change soon, though, with the introduction of usernames. 

You can also compromise your conversations if an attacker physically gets a hold of your device. To minimize your risk, lock your device and the Signal app with a PIN and enable disappearing messages. 

Finally, if you want to mask your IP address when relaying your calls through Signal’s servers, we recommend that you use CyberGhost VPN to prevent others from seeing your actual IP.


Who owns the Signal app?

The Signal Foundation owns the Signal app. Signal creator Moxie Marlinspike and WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton founded it and its subsidiary, Signal Messenger LLC in 2018. Signal Messenger LLC is responsible for the development of the app and its encryption protocol, the Signal protocol.

Check out the What’s Signal and Who are the People Behind It? section in this article for a more thorough discussion about the foundation. 

Is Signal the same as Signal Advance, Inc.?

They’re different. Signal is a private and secure messaging app owned by the Signal Foundation. On the other hand, Signal Advance, Inc. sells signal detection and processing systems for medical and industrial applications.
If you want to compare the Signal app against other messaging apps, please check out the Signal Different Vs. Other Messaging Apps section above.

What is the Signal Foundation?

It is an organization founded in 2018 by privacy advocates Signal creator Moxie Marlinspike and WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton. It aims to develop an “open source privacy technology that protects free expression and enables secure global communication.” Meredith Whittaker joined the foundation in September 2022 as president. 

Whittaker said in an October 2022 interview with The Verge that its structure allows it to function as a nonprofit and not prioritize profit and growth over its core mission. Learn more about the foundation and the people behind it in this article’s What’s Signal and Who are the People Behind It? section.

Is Signal safe to use?

Yes. Signal’s open-source nature, end-to-end encryption, and commitment to never collecting user data make it one of the safest messaging apps around. Of course, some situations may compromise this security, such as when an attacker physically gets a hold of your device. Locking your phone and the app with a PIN and using disappearing messages can help avoid this.

You can also use a VPN like CyberGhost to further obscure your identity and prevent a third party or Signal from seeing your actual IP address.

Leave a comment

How do you get signal messanger app?


Hi, Joanie. You can download it from their website, the App Store if you have an iOS device (e.g., iPad, iPhone), or the Google Play Store if you have an Android device (e.g., Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy device).
I hope that helps.

Thanks for the informative article. I use uMessenger, the built-in messenger of Utopia’s P2P ecosystem. It is designed for instant and confidential communication between network users


Confidential communication is really a must-have these days. Thanks for reading!

My google chat also shows up on Instagram…is this cross talk or owned by same same company?

Hello Thomas,
They aren’t from the same company. I recommend you reach out to the customer support teams of both platforms. They may be able to help you with your inquiry.
Best of luck to you!

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