Signal messaging app tests out cryptocurrency payments

Signal and MobileCoin team up to bring fast peer-to-peer payments to mobile without a bank's involvement.

Encrypted messaging app Signal is testing out a new feature that will let users make payments to friends with the privacy-focused cryptocurrency MobileCoin. 

Signal announced the new feature as a beta that, for now, is only available in the UK. Signal users in the UK should see a new Signal Payments feature that lets them send payments using MobileCoin. 

Signal gained a flood of new users after Facebook-owned WhatsApp announced new terms of service that will allow it to share user profile data with Facebook in some circumstances. The new terms take effect on May 15; uncertainty about the changes helped Signal become the fastest growing app in Q1 2021, according to mobile ad analytics firm, App Annie.  

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While many people won't be familiar with MobileCoin, the creator of Signal and the Signal end-to-end encryption protocol, Moxie Marlinspike, advised MobileCoin how to make the cryptocurrency both private and user-friendly, according to a 2017 Wired profile

So it's a notable thing that an encrypted messaging app might soon enable not just end-to-end encrypted communications on voice and text, but also allow private payments. That would differer from WhatsApp and iMessage, which allow payments but often rely on banks for the transaction. 

The reason the Signal peer-to-peer (P2P) payments feature is only available in the UK at the moment is because the cryptocurrency exchange that MobileCoin is using is FTX, which doesn't support trades for US users. The UK is also a smaller test bed for payments within the app. The payments feature is supposed to be as fast as using Venmo, according to MobileCoin's founder Josh Goldbard.  

Signal claims that Signal Payments linked to a MobileCoin wallet will make it easy to transfer funds between contacts, keep track of an account balance, and review a transaction history with a simple interface. 

"As always, our goal is to keep your data in your hands rather than ours; MobileCoin's design means Signal does not have access to your balance, full transaction history, or funds. You can also transfer your funds at any time if you want to switch to another app or service," Signal said on its blog. 

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MobileCoin has tapped Microsoft Azure to bolster the security of its dependence on Intel's SGX feature, which is designed to allow a server to run code that even the server's operator can't alter. 

The P2P feature currently works on Signal for Android and iOS devices but not the desktop app.