Signal to Noise

by Volker Weber

Management summary: please install Signal.

I recently had some intelligent conversations in Signal and in one of them I explained that I do not consider my email as confidential, but I do with chat. Email is a store and forward system and while it may be encrypted in transit it is not encrypted at rest. And I cannot be bothered with PGP. While I do not disclose secrets on purpose, I also cannot protect them. Email gets replied to and forwarded and such things. You would not believe the amount of confidential information I gathered by just scrolling down.

Chat = confidential, email not so much.

For chat to stay confidential it has to be encrypted. In transit and at rest. Signal does that for me. Since the last time I asked, my contact list has grown by 100 people. And that is only the people I know of. My phone number is public. Add me to your address book and you can reach me on Signal.

If you want me to be able to reach out to you, or to even recognize you when you contact me, I need your phone number. The best way to tell me your phone number is by emailing me your vcard. What does a good vcard look like? Here is an example. It's just a text file with the extension .vcf.

FN:Volker Weber

My real vcard has more entries, but that is all I need from you. Name, email, phone number. If you cannot be bothered to write a vcard file, that is not a problem. Just send me an email with only your phone number as text.

Want to read more about Signal? This is currently the top story on The Verge.

I will make it easy for you: please install Signal, even if you don't know anybody else who uses it. They will come.


Maybe there is a way to encourage people to publically advertise their Signal contact details (aka mobile phone number).

I've added "+447944595734@signal" to my Twitter profile. Maybe there are other places I could do something similar.

Ian Bradbury, 2017-01-13 10:37

For many people that would be too public. But adding this minimal vcard file to the footer of your emails is a good start. And to also spell the number out in that footer.

Volker Weber, 2017-01-13 11:05

I also added a link to signal to my WhatsApp status... :-)

However, I am not quite sure I follow your logic to consider chat to be that more confidential. What prevents a Signal user from copying and forwarding content from your Signal chat messages? Admittedly, forwarding the whole conversation is not a simple click of a button as it is in e-mail and thus it won't happen as accidental as it probably does in e-mail. But calling it confidential seems a bit far reaching.

One really has to go a lot further than that when you want to ensure that usage permissions are enforced on content.

Ragnar Schierholz, 2017-01-13 16:11

I am describing my end of a conversation.

Volker Weber, 2017-01-13 16:17

If only there was an email client where you could control forwarding or printing emails....

Ian Bradbury, 2017-01-13 22:01

That did not really work. Just change that flag and off you go. Besides, just reply and add a recipient.

Volker Weber, 2017-01-13 23:03

Let me remove my rose tinted spectacles. Oh yes. I see.

Ian Bradbury, 2017-01-14 11:20

The one big disadvantage of signal seems to be that you cannot send file attachments other than videos or images. No PDF for example. Would be great if signal would allow for a encrypted way of transferring documents (only up to a reasonable size of course)

Kristian Raue, 2017-01-14 14:17

Thanks for the reminder to add it to my email signature. Now done.

I think it would also help if it was possible to add them in Facebook, Google+ and other profiles. Unfortunately neither Facebook nor Google+ allow you to do so in their dropdowns (but instead some others I've never heard of....)

Armin Grewe, 2017-01-14 19:01

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I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.


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