Above Photo: Flickr
Long before we knew that it would be called Signal, we knew what we wanted it to be. Instead of teaching the rest of the world cryptography, we wanted to see if we could develop cryptography that worked for the rest of the world. At the time, the industry consensus was largely that encryption and cryptography would remain unusable, but we started Signal with the idea that private communication could be simple.
Since then, we’ve made some progress. We’ve built a service used by millions, and software used by billions. The stories that make it back to us and keep us going are the stories of people discovering each other in moments where they found they could speak freely over Signal, of people falling in love over Signal, of people organizing ambitious plans over Signal. When we ask friends who at their workplace is on Signal and they respond “every C-level executive, and the kitchen staff.” When we receive a subpoena for user data and have nothing to send back but a blank sheet of paper. When we catch that glimpse of “Signal blue” on a metro commuter’s phone and smile.
However, we’ve always wanted to do much more, and our limitations have often been challenging. Over the lifetime of the project, there have only been an average of 2.3 full-time software developers, and the entire Signal team has never been more than 7 people. With three client platforms to develop, a service to build and run, a growing list of integrations to assist with, and millions of users to support, that has often left us wanting.
Even so, Signal has never taken VC funding or sought investment, because we felt that putting profit first would be incompatible with building a sustainable project that put users first. As a consequence, Signal has sometimes suffered from our lack of resources or capacity in the short term, but we’ve always felt those values would lead to the best possible experience in the long term.
We’re glad those are the choices we’ve made. Today, we are launching the Signal Foundation, an emerging 501(c)(3) nonprofit created and made possible by Brian Acton, the co-founder of WhatsApp, to support, accelerate, and broaden Signal’s mission of making private communication accessible and ubiquitous. In case you missed it, Brian left WhatsApp and Facebook last year, and has been thinking about how to best focus his future time and energy on building nonprofit technology for public good.
Starting with an initial $50,000,000 in funding, we can now increase the size of our team, our capacity, and our ambitions. This means reduced uncertainty on the path to sustainability, and the strengthening of our long-term goals and values. Perhaps most significantly, the addition of Brian brings an incredibly talented engineer and visionary with decades of experience building successful products to our team.
The Signal Foundation completes our vision of Signal operating as part of a full 501(c)(3). Up until now, we’ve never been able to take on the 501(c)(3) management overhead ourselves, and we’ve relied on the generosity of the Freedom Of The Press Foundation as our fiscal sponsor. Without their support, Signal would not be where it is today, and they have graciously agreed to continue accepting donations on our behalf while our status is pending.
Looking back at the progress we’ve made with such a small group, it’s exciting to imagine what an expanded team and the new foundation will help us accomplish in the future. We still know what we want Signal to be, and my personal commitment to Signal is as strong as ever.
A message from Brian
Hi everyone, Brian here. I am incredibly excited to be launching the Signal Foundation with Moxie. The Signal Foundation’s mission is to develop open source privacy technology that protects free expression and enables secure global communication.
As more and more of our lives happen online, data protection and privacy are critical. This isn’t just important for select people in select countries. It’s important for people from all walks of life in every part of the world. Everyone deserves to be protected. We created the Signal Foundation in response to this global need. Our plan is to pioneer a new model of technology nonprofit focused on privacy and data protection for everyone, everywhere.
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.
Moxie and his team have built something very special in Signal Messenger and I am thrilled to join their effort to provide the most trusted communications experience on the planet. I first met Moxie in 2013 when I was at WhatsApp and we were working on a joint effort to add end-to-end encryption to the app. I was blown away by his technical ability and admired his passion and absolute commitment to data protection and personal privacy. Moxie will continue to serve as CEO of the newly created Signal Messenger nonprofit organization, and I will serve as Executive Chairman of the Signal Foundation where I will take an active, daily role in operations and product development. After over 20 years of working for some of the largest technology companies in the world, I couldn’t be more excited for this opportunity to build an organization at the intersection of technology and the nonprofit world.
Of course, this is just the beginning. There is a lot of work to be done to make our dream a reality and we will continually be asking our peers, our community, and ourselves if there are more effective ways to serve the public good. In the immediate future we are focused on adding to our talented-but-small team and improving Signal Messenger. Our long-term vision is for the Signal Foundation to provide multiple offerings that align with our core mission. That will come in time. For now, I invite you to sign up for Signal Messenger and join us in the experiment.