Signal and WhatsApp take steps to protect user privacy

9 Nov 2023

Image: © asiraj/

Signal is testing a username feature as a way to keep phone numbers hidden, while WhatsApp is letting users hide their location in calls.

Both Signal and WhatsApp have announced new features to protect the privacy of their users.

Signal is testing a feature to bring usernames to the private messaging service, as a way to let users keep their phone numbers hidden from others. The platform has launched a ‘staging’ version of Signal to let users test this feature before a public launch.

Users that sign up for this version of Signal will be able to test new features such as creating usernames, sharing username links, modifying sharing settings for their phone number and “inviting people to groups by username and by phone number alike”.

The company warned in a blogpost that this early build will likely have crashes, no uptime guarantees and the loss of push notifications.

“We know that there are some rough edges in the UX [user experience] at the moment, as you might expect with pre-beta software, so you’re welcome to note issues you find in the UX, but we may already be aware of many of them,” a Signal staff member said.

The move has been welcomed by some users on X, as it will allow them to keep their phone number fully private. Last year, Signal warned 1,900 users that their phone numbers were potentially exposed as a result of a Twilio data breach.

WhatsApp privacy

Meanwhile, WhatsApp has announced multiple optional features that it claims will make the app more secure for its users.

One of these features lets users hide their IP address in calls, in order to keep their location private from other parties in a call. The company said this feature works by relaying calls through its own servers.

“This new feature provides an additional layer of privacy and security particularly geared towards our most privacy-conscious users,” WhatsApp owner Meta said in a blogpost. “Protecting user privacy and security is absolutely necessary for WhatsApp to accomplish its mission to enable private communication for the world.”

At the start of the year, WhatsApp was fined €5.5m by the Irish Data Protection Commission over GDPR breaches. This fine related to a complaint that WhatsApp was effectively forcing users to consent to the processing of their personal data to access its service.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic