WhatsApp Co-Founder Joins New ‘Signal Foundation,’ Invests $50 Million

Open Whisper Systems, the company behind the end-to-end encrypted Signal messenger, announced the creation of the Signal Foundation. WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, who left WhatsApp and Facebook last year, will join the foundation as Executive Chairman and invest $50 million to expand the Signal team and its ambitions.

Modern End-To-End Encryption

Few would deny that Signal has had a profound role in the adoption of end-to-end encryption. The open-source Signal app itself has risen significantly in popularity,  gaining millions of new users as well as being adopted by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the U.S. Senate.

However, the Signal team has had an even bigger impact on the adoption of end-to-end encryption beyond its own app. The Signal team was able to convince the developers of much more popular messengers, such as WhatsApp, Google Allo, Facebook Messenger, and even Skype, that they should use its open source and state-of-the-art encryption protocol. (The protocol is, as you may have guessed, called the Signal Protocol.)

Among those, only WhatsApp enabled it by default (with some slight compromises), while the others provide optional secure chat modes that are rarely used.

Funding For New Features, Applications

Up until now Signal has had some relatively limited funding from the Freedom of the Press Foundation and other organizations and individuals. The team has also refused to take venture capital money, fearing that a profit incentive would skew the company’s primary goals of “making private communications accessible and ubiquitous.”

However, with Acton helping the team form the Signal Foundation and investing $50 million into it, Signal’s chances of achieving its major goals are now much more likely.

Acton met “Moxie Marlinspike,” the founder of Open Whisper Systems and the creator of Signal, back in 2013 when they were collaborating on adding the Signal protocol to WhatsApp, and he was impressed by Marlinspike’s technical skills and passion for privacy.

In a joint blog post, Acton said:

Moxie and I share a belief that the best way to continue to ensure the universal availability of high-security and low-cost communications services like Signal is to do so through a foundation structure that is free of the inherent limitations of a for-profit company. Ultimately, our goal is to make the Signal Foundation financially self-sustaining. We believe there is an opportunity to act in the public interest and make a meaningful contribution to society by building sustainable technology that respects users and does not rely on the commoditization of personal data. Signal has always been a collaborative project with a strong community, and we will continue to learn from our users and experiment together.

Acton added that Moxie will remain the CEO of the Signal Foundation, while he will be Executive Chairman and participate in day-to-day product development. In the immediate future, the Signal Foundation will focus on expanding the team and improving the Signal app. However, the long-term vision seems to be to have “multiple offerings” that align with the nonprofit’s core mission, which may imply different types of security-oriented applications or services.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.