I Don't Like Any Messaging App

16th of May 2021

The Hated One just released a video discussing some of the problems with Signal, and I agree with a lot of what he said, except for the recommendation to switch to Element.

Signal gets a lot of praise, and for good reason. It's mostly well designed. However, it's far from perfect. I've found it to be pretty stable (although the order of messages can be messed up on mobile), unlike Element (e.g. decryption errors for both parties), but there are various missing features, such as no support for message backups in the desktop application, something requested in a GitHub issue that has now been open for over five years! Not everybody wants to lose their messages when they switch devices Signal. It shouldn't even be a difficult feature to implement.

There's also the fact that you need a phone to even use the service, which was an awful design decision for a privacy messenger. The whole 'privacy != anonymity' argument to defend Signal is missing the point; namely, that a) you shouldn't give out your phone number to strangers on the internet, b) there's no need for this phone number requirement (lots of other services have managed with usernames just fine), and c) not everybody has a phone. I'll admit that c) is unlikely nowadays, but the recommended solution of using a Google Voice number is ridiculous when the same people recommending Signal advocate against using Google services. Moreover, Google Voice requires a US phone number. It's simply not as easy to obtain access to another phone number as some claim.

To make matters worse, Signal's funding model is problematic. It doesn't take a genius to realise that donations from ordinary people alone won't be able to sustain huge amounts of bandwidth, especially when most people don't donate to open source projects. In response to this realisation, Signal decided to join the cryptocurrency craze. What a terrible idea. Firstly, Signal is a messaging app, not a payment app. Secondly, instead of integrating Monero, the best privacy respecting cryptocurrency, they decided to rip off Monero and make a new cryptocurrency that's worse, all whilst cashing in when people make transactions.

It's honestly baffling why so many people defend legitimate criticisms of Signal as if they developed the app themselves. Stop burying your head in the sand and start thinking critically. The fact that support for usernames doesn't appear to be coming any time soon, the limited business model, the disparity between features on different platforms (e.g. backups on Android but not on iOS and PC), and now the integration of cryptocurrency indicates the flawed nature of the service. If you can't see that, it's time to get your eyesight checked.

With that said, all the current messaging apps have problems, and Signal is one of the better ones out there. For anybody wondering why, here's a summary of the current messaging platforms and why you shouldn't use them:

Mainstream Messengers

Privacy Messengers

Let's hope Signal gets their act together and some of the above services improve enough to be recommended.

Note: Please contact me if I've missed something, managed to get anything factually wrong, or things have changed when you're reading this.