Nov 3, 2022 - Technology

Signal to roll out Snapchat-like "stories" feature

Photo illustration: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Encrypted messaging app Signal will soon have an ephemeral "stories" feature, with video, pictures or text that disappear after 24 hours.

Driving the news: Signal, often used by journalists, activists and privacy minded individuals, plans to roll out the feature on Monday, the nonprofit's president Meredith Whittaker told Axios at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal Thursday.

The intrigue: User updates that last on profiles for 24 hours, often called "stories," are something popularized by Snapchat and Instagram, both companies with targeted advertising based business models who also monetize the feature, something Signal is vehemently opposed to.

What they're saying: 'The short answer is that people want [stories]," Whittaker told Axios in an exclusive interview when asked why the privacy-focused app is rolling out such a feature.

  • "We've heard particularly from South America and South Asia, where that's a really popular feature, that that was something that would encourage [people] to use Signal, that it's a norm for communication."

Details: Whittaker said stories on Signal are a way to share quick updates with a trusted circle of contacts in a "less high-pressure way," and that Signal users will easily be able to opt out of the feature entirely if they want.

  • The app won't give users a notification if someone screenshots their story, she said: "You just gotta know who your people are."

Signal will not run ads on stories or track user data in any way, she said, and having a stories feature is a way to make the app appeal to anyone, not just people who especially need private communications.

  • "We're trying to make it as useful as possible and intuitive as possible. You shouldn't have to be a privacy ideologue to pick it up."

Be smart: Driving more people to the app will potentially broadening the pool of monthly donations to Signal in order to keep it up and running. That's one of Whittaker's tasks as president, a role she took up this fall.

  • "We're really attentive to [questions] like, what are the communication norms? What are the tools that folks are adopting? What are the kids doing? And you know, as a person who's not a kid anymore, I try to listen, right?" Whittaker said.
  • "I recognize, OK, I may not be the biggest fan of stories, but clearly this matters to people and it's part of how they talk to each other."

What to watch: Whittaker said Signal will never charge users just to use the app, but there may be paid features in the future, such as extra storage.

The bottom line: Signal needs money to maintain its level of functionality and encryption. Stories don't directly lead to profit, but it's a way Whittaker is trying to make the app appeal to many who use private communications in every day life.

  • "We're gently reminding people periodically like, 'hey, you know, it costs tens of millions of dollars a year to build and maintain Signal. So if you can, and you want to, kick down a little bit every month."
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