ZD Tech: Signal recruits an ex-Google to try to make money

Hello everyone and welcome to ZD Tech, ZDNet’s daily editorial podcast. My name is Guillaume Serries and today I explain to you how the Signal messaging app will finally try to make money.

Messaging app Signal has just hired Meredith Whittaker, a former head of tech giant Google. And it’s not on a small post, since she becomes the first president of Signal.

Still, his goal is very, very ambitious. Its mission, no more and no less, is to convince Signal users to pay to continue using this application for the free hour.

Signal’s competitors use users’ personal data to make money

Signal is a messaging app like WhatsApp or Messenger. Its reputation is built on the security of exchanges, and a so-called foolproof encryption.

Signal offers end-to-end encryption for text, voice, and video group chats, does not collect or store sensitive information, and does not keep backups of your data on its servers.

An important point of differentiation vis-à-vis fierce competition in the courier sector. Most of Signal’s competitors do indeed use users’ personal data to make money.

Self-financing through donations

The app also experienced a massive spike in downloads last year when WhatsApp changed its usage policy to collect data on user interactions. It should also be noted that Signal is managed by a non-profit organization. But now, you have to earn money.

Especially since if Signal currently has 140.9 million downloads on the App Store and Google Play, its competitors are far ahead. WhatsApp exceeded 2 billion downloads in 2019. Telegram for its part exceeded one billion downloads in 2021.

In an interview, Meredith Whittaker said she plans to focus on self-funding, thanks to small donations from millions of users. “It costs tens of millions of dollars a year to develop and maintain an app like Signal,” she explains.

An activist at the head of Signal

Because yes, as Meredith Whittaker knows very well with her experience at Google, “when it’s free, you’re the product”. So the only way to escape technology that makes money from your data is to pay for products that don’t, she says. An alternative to data collection only exists if the community of people who depend on it “gives a little push”, she argues.

Beyond her pedigree at Google, Meredith Whittaker, who has been a member of Signal’s board of directors since 2020, has become known for her sometimes critical speech on the implementation of new technologies in companies. She co-founded the AI ​​Now Institute, a research center to raise awareness of the social implications of artificial intelligence.

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