Exactly one year after gaining international fame, Moxie Marlinspike stepped down from his position as CEO of Signal, the pro-privacy messaging application he founded.
Of course, the numbers are still small: with 40 million users, Signal pales in front of Telegram (550 million) and above all WhatsApp (2 billion). However, the most important element of the platform founded by Marlinspike is another: if WhatsApp collects up to 9 different types of information on users and also Telegram (whose communications are not encrypted by default) collects 3, Signal does not take possession of any data. A demonstration of this feature took place in 2016: the FBI sued Signal to force her to provide a person’s data, but the platform was only able to reveal when that user had signed up and when they had last logged in. Nothing else, because he knew nothing else.
Another characteristic aspect of Signal is the business model: it does not collect data, it has no advertising, it does not offer premium paid tools. All the money needed to manage the platform (and to pay salaries of about thirty employees) come from voluntary donations and the interest-free loan of $ 50 million received from Brian Acton, founder of WhatsApp, who has long worked closely with Marlinspike and who will take on the role of managing director on an interim basis.
In post in which he announced his farewell, the founder of Signal explained that the search for the new Ad is underway, specifying that he has unchanged confidence in the “unlimited potential of Signal”, to consider this platform “extremely important” and to want to maintain a position on the board of directors .
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So why did you decide to leave? On this, Marlinspike gave no information. And the opposite would have been odd, considering how (predictably) jealous he is of his private life. The founder of Signal does not have never disclosed neither his real name (Moxie Marlinspike is a nickname) nor his date or city of birth. Of his origins we know practically only that he was born in the early 1980s in the US state of Georgia and that in his youth he was an anarchist militant.
After moving to San Francisco in the 1990s and gaining a reputation as hacker, he first conceived the Whisper System encrypted communications tool (later sold to Twitter) and then created the non-profit Open Whisper System. It is around this time that Marlinspike himself has created the fundamental TextSecure protocol: an end-to-end encryption application that guarantees interception-proof communications and which, over time, has been adopted by WhatsApp, Skype and others.
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Finally, in 2014, Signal was born, which quickly became one of the advocates of privacy as the only completely secure application. This fame is accompanied by the inevitable accusations of being a platform that plays the game of criminals, allowing them to communicate away from any prying eyes. However, it is not only the bad guys who take advantage of the security of this platform: the staff of the European Commission employs Signal to protect your communications and even the UN has recommended its use to send journalists and NGOs evidence of abuses committed by totalitarian regimes.
However, the issue of the dark sides of privacy has recently re-emerged even among the same employees of Signal, worried that the company is (as expert Casey Newton summed up on Platformer) “playing with fire”. The reason is the integration, announced quietly in mid-November, of the MobileCoin cryptocurrency, already available today for all Signal users and which allows you to send completely anonymous digital payments. “I wish we lived in a world where you can not only feel privacy when you talk to the psychoanalyst about Signal, but also when you pay for it through Signal,” Marlinspike explained at the time. The problem is that the same privacy is guaranteed even when someone pays, for example, drugs or other illegal materials and services. The risk, in short, is that Signal will turn into a new version of Silk Road, the infamous black market of the Dark Web.
The issue worries, as mentioned, the same employees of Signal, who think that the company can suffer heavy legal repercussions. The precedents, on the other hand, show how lawmakers have always strongly opposed the introduction of anonymous payments on communication platforms: Telegram had to abandon its cryptocurrency after a legal battle lasting years; the same did the smaller Kik Messenger and, as is known, even Facebook had huge headaches creating Libra (later renamed Diem).
Cryptocurrencies could have played a role in the farewell of Moxie Marlinspike: not only has there been rumors of his possible arrival at the company that manages MobileCoin, but it was above all the founder of Signal himself who showed a great interest in the Web3, to which he dedicated a long post on his personal blog. All of this has been disproved by a source close to Marlinspike, according to which, at the moment, the founder of Signal is only interested in “taking a break”.