Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Signal Usernames

Randall Sarafa (Mastodon, Hacker News):

If you use Signal, your phone number will no longer be visible to everyone you chat with by default.


If you don’t want to hand out your phone number to chat with someone on Signal, you can now create a unique username that you can use instead (you will still need a phone number to sign up for Signal). Note that a username is not the profile name that’s displayed in chats, it’s not a permanent handle, and not visible to the people you are chatting with in Signal. A username is simply a way to initiate contact on Signal without sharing your phone number.


If you don’t want people to be able to find you by searching for your phone number on Signal, you can now enable a new, optional privacy setting. This means that unless people have your exact unique username, they won’t be able to start a conversation, or even know that you have a Signal account – even if they have your phone number.

Tjaden Hess:

How does this work under the hood? Let’s take a look!


Update (2024-03-11): Devin Coldewey (via Hacker News):

“Let me start by kind of explaining that with an example. In India recently, it has become a requirement, in order to obtain a SIM card, to submit to a biometric facial recognition scan. That is not just happening in India, we’re seeing a number of jurisdictions where to obtain a phone number, you are required to provide more and more personal information. Some, in some places like Taiwan, that is linked to government ID databases that often get breached and cause a lot of problems,” she said.


It’s a problem that far larger organizations have trouble addressing, as millions or billions of users register and change names that could in themselves be rules violations — a name is just a short string, and can as easily be “RainbowBubbles” as it can be “Kill_all_[insert slur here].” Impersonation, scams, all kinds of issues are equally possible in username fields as they are in posts or profile fields.

Signal’s solution to this is, basically, to eliminate the ways these methods cause harm at scale, rather than trying to prevent them altogether.

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