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World

Is ‘Signal’ the new spying partner of US agencies?

  • Signal was launched by now-defunct Open Whisper Systems (OWS) in 2013. It is the brain child of shadowy tech guru Matthew Rosenfeld aka ‘Moxie Marlinspike’.
  • It’s clear though that at least $2,955,000 was provided by the Open Technology Fund (OTF) 2013-2016, and the organisation’s website refers to Signal being “originally developed with OTF funding.”
30 Jan 2021

Following the WhatsApp privacy update saga, Signal has witnessed a significant increase in number of users. Although it is not quite as huge as its larger rival from the Facebook, but it has a significant impact on position of the app in the market.

With increasing number of users under the shadow of WhatsApp privacy issue, the curiosity of finding the origin of the app also grows among the users. The question is whether it is safe to use or not?

Signal was launched by now-defunct Open Whisper Systems (OWS) in 2013. It is the brain child of shadowy tech guru Matthew Rosenfeld aka ‘Moxie Marlinspike’.

In 2018, the management of the app was shifted to nonprofit Signal Foundation, which started up with a capital of $50 million provided by former Facebook official Brian Acton.

However, Rosenfeld alleged that the app never took VC funding or sought investment.

It’s clear though that at least $2,955,000 was provided by the Open Technology Fund (OTF) 2013-2016, and the organisation’s website refers to Signal being “originally developed with OTF funding.”

The site is also home to a dedicated OWS profile, which boasts of how the OTF “enabled the OWS team to continue providing Signal at no cost around the globe and adapt their operations for a growing user base.”

What is OTF?

The Open Technology Fund (OTF) was created in 2012 as pilot programme of Radio Free Asia (RFA), an asset of US Agency for Global Media (USAGM).

It was funded by US Congress to the tune of $637 million annually – in August 2018, its then-CEO acknowledged the outlet’s priorities “reflect US national security interests.”

The launch of the OTF followed the US State Department, then led by Hillary Clinton, pursuing an “Internet Freedom” policy, ostensibly an effort to develop tools to subvert restrictive internet policies.

USAGM is moreover evidently extremely proud of Signal, an official factsheet published November 2019 giving the app top-billing in a list of “tools supported by OTF.”

The agency might be, given how popular it has become with dissidents overseas, including those in countries and regions of intense interest to Washington.

There’s no suggestion whatsoever that any US security agency had a direct hand in crafting the app’s now world-standard encryption system, or plays a day-to-day role running the company.

However, the same can’t be said of popular internet anonymity browser Tor, which is frequently recommended by privacy advocates in the same breath as Signal.