The biggest concern I had when transitioning away from five years of life on my iPhone was how I would fare without my beloved Messages app. Apple did really well to make their users feel like they were part of a special club when it comes to how fluid Messages works. Simply put, Apple pioneered the evolution of SMS/MMS, from its seamless integration with other Apple devices (Macbooks, iMacs and iPads) to its built-in visual effects, group chats, Apple Pay, end-to-end encryption and more. The way Messages evolved was always something I thought Steve Jobs himself would be proud of, but like many things from Cupertino – it really only works for people who can afford or prefer their products.
While the general effectiveness of this system still holds true for Apple and its users, the overall messaging landscape continues to shift and the non-Apple device market share continues to grow. Particularly among young people, I don’t think I’m alone when I say I probably text more than I talk and not everyone I text is on an iPhone. The avenues for texts to travel continues to expand and depending on what social networks you frequent, they may become primary methods of transmission through direct message functions. The issue here, however, becomes a matter of privacy. Much like SMS/MMS texts sent via your mobile carrier, the messages you send through a social network are not exactly ‘private’ because eventually they end up stored on a server somewhere (even if you delete them). For most, this level of privacy really isn’t an issue, but as data continues to be harvested, hacked, leaked and abused – it really comes down to defining our principles and finding a place to draw the line.
Since migrating to my OnePlus 6, I’ve been testing out a well-known messaging app called Signal. Signal is a secure, open-source voice, video and texting service that runs on Android and iOS. What I’ve grown to like about Signal is that privacy really does seem to be at the heart of their mission and that’s important for users who might not know what going down this road entails. For the record, I am not an expert on encrypted communications and this article does not qualify as an official endorsement. There is extensive documentation on the subject and I encourage anyone interested to exercise your own due diligence on this sensitive subject.
In switching back to Android, I learned that it now allows you to choose from a number of different apps to use as your default text message client, but choosing Signal comes with some added benefits. For one, Signal clearly indicates with a small little lock/unlock icon whether or not your conversation is encrypted (i.e. whether it’s a direct Signal correspondence or SMS).
Similarly, Signal allows you to lock down the app via fingerprint scan, and allows for self-disappearing (or self-destructing) messages. Signal also has a nice desktop application for Mac, Windows and Linux that works much like Apple’s Messages. One drawback of the desktop application however, is that it does not allow you to send SMS messages over your carrier (i.e. to anyone not using Signal), which Apple Messages and Google’s new browser based system does.
Nevertheless, if you are someone like me – who uses Android, Apple, and Windows devices – and aren’t interested in others having even just potential access to personal conversations, there’s really no point in not using an app like Signal. While it does require a little extra effort to get your closest friends, family and allies on board – it really is a very cool app that’s free and reinforces a basic principle that it seems we need to remind ourselves of these days. Which is, we can’t just accept that private corporations, our national government, or potential foreign state actors will inevitably have access to what we say or do online. It’s not that all of us have something to hide, but rather – we are just now learning how and to what extent our personal lives and preferences can be weaponized.