In brief

  • Signal is reportedly experimenting with its own digital currency, as per a report.
  • However, such a payments offering will not be a straightforward process, its CEO said.
  • The app saw its user base double in the past month on the back of privacy woes at WhatsApp.

Private messaging app Signal is said to have conducted experiments for a cryptocurrency offering for users, as per a report by technology newsletter Platformer earlier today.

Experiments for such a token project were done on MobileCoin, a privacy cryptocurrency based on Stellar, the world’s eleventh largest blockchain by market cap. Signal CEO Moxie Marlinspike served as an adviser to MobileCoin, indicating how the two projects could have overlapped.

Signal is the flagship app of the Signal Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to open-source privacy technology. It offers end-to-end message encryption to its 40 million users—meaning any transferred data can only be read by the sender and receiver, and no other service/app on the phone can access or decipher it.

And as per Platformer, employees say the firm is “actively exploring” the use of a digital currency within the platform. Such an offering would be in line with Facebook’s own payment services and the use of electronic payments on WeChat, China’s biggest messaging app.

But despite the murmurs, Marlinspike has so far downplayed any such development, at least in the near future. He acknowledged the firm did play around with integrating MobileCoin within Signal, but nothing beyond that.

“If we did decide we wanted to put payments into Signal, we would try to think really carefully about how we did that. It’s hard to be totally hypothetical,” Marlinspike said.


To clarify, MobileCoin does not run on the Stellar blockchain but is built on a modified version of Stellar's consensus algorithm. "To be extra clear, we reimplemented Stellar from scratch in Rust with a series of performance modifications and the encrypted synchronization tech. It gives single block finality in about a second for transactions right now," Joshua Goldbard, founder of MobileCoin, told Decrypt.

He added that the main difference is that the blockchain's consensus is somewhat encrypted and can only be decrypted inside secure hardware. "In this way the ballots can synchronize without revealing the sender, receiver, or amount of the transactions to the node operators," he said.

Signal's growing pains

Marlinspike's concerns come on the back of troubles emerging amidst Signal’s growth story. The app has, so far, sailed forward on the waves of privacy, encryption, and cryptography, but new features have attracted criticism from users and employees alike.

One such concern came around the US elections last year. On Signal, anonymous users can forward group “invites” for chat rooms as large as 1,000 people. This, theoretically, means users could propagate or plan acts of violence while their identity remains unknown (as not even Signal may know the exact identity of a user unless they voluntarily give it out).

On the flipside, tweaking its privacy policy to weed off such users could backfire, as that would mean the demise of a truly private messaging app.

Another competitor

Meanwhile, news of the potential digital currency comes weeks after newer users chose Signal in favor of other messaging apps.

As per another report, Signal saw a 100% bump in its user base in the past month after WhatsApp, the world’s largest and most popular messaging service, unveiled its new privacy policy—which would see a user’s sensitive data, messages, and phone details shared with Facebook, its parent company.

Facebook is itself tinkering with Novi, an upcoming digital currency pegged to the US dollar. But Signal may be coming as competition for that too.


Update: This story has been updated with comments from MobileCoin's founder.

Daily Debrief Newsletter

Start every day with the top news stories right now, plus original features, a podcast, videos and more.