Most of us might be familiar with Signal as the privacy-preserving messaging app of choice, but the company is expanding into a new frontier: payments.
Signal announced on Tuesday that as a part of its latest beta, it’s adding support for a new Signal Payments feature that allows Signal users to send “privacy focused payments as easily as sending or receiving a message.”
These payments are only going to be available to Android and iOS Signal users in the UK during this beta, and will use one specific payment network: MobileCoin, an open-source cryptocurrency that is itself still a prototype, according to the MobileCoin GitHub repo. The same page notes that the MobileCoin Wallet that someone would need in order to send these payments back and forth isn’t yet available for download by anyone in the U.S. As Wired notes, however, this is a new feature that the company wants to expand globally once it’s out of its infancy.
Unlike other popular texting apps that also offer a payment component—like, say, Facebook Messenger—MobileCoin doesn’t rely on funneling money from a user’s bank account in order to function. Instead, it’s a currency that lives on the blockchain, allowing payments made over MobileCoin to bypass the banking systems that routinely work with major data brokers in order to pawn off people’s transaction data.
It’s worth noting here that Signal CEO Moxie Marlinspike has pretty close ties to this new crypto, acting as a behind-the-scenes advisor on the project since 2017.
“With Signal, we didn’t invent cryptography. We’re just making it accessible to people who didn’t want to cut and paste a lot of gobbledegook every time they sent a message,” Marlinspike told Wired.
“I see a lot of parallels with this,” he went on, referencing payments. “We’re not inventing private payments. ... Privacy-preserving cryptocurrencies have existed for years and will continue to exist. What we’re doing is just, again, a part of trying to make that accessible to ordinary people.”
Signal’s blog notes that folks in the UK can give MobileCoin a whirl by converting other cryptocurrencies to MobileCoin’s own MOB currency using the FTX crypto exchange. The company added that along with more countries, it plans to expand its beta to other exchanges “soon.”