Encrypted chat app Signal is adding payments to the services it provides, a long-expected move and one the company is taking its time on. A U.K.-only beta program will allow users to trade the cryptocurrency MobileCoin quickly, easily, and most importantly, privately.
If you're in the U.K., or have some way to appear to be, you'll notice a new Signal Payments feature in the app when you update. All you need to do to use it is link a MobileCoin wallet after you buy some on the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, the only one that lists it right now.
Once you link up, you'll be able to instantly send MOB to anyone else with a linked wallet, pretty much as easily as you'd send a chat. (No word on when the beta will expand to other countries or currencies.)
Just as Signal doesn't have any kind of access to the messages you send or calls you make, your payments are totally private. MobileCoin, which Signal has been working with for a couple years now, was built from the ground up for speed and privacy, using a zero-knowledge proof system and other innovations to make it as easy as Venmo but as secure as … well, Signal. You can read more about their approach in this paper (PDF).
MobileCoin just snagged a little over $11 million in funding last month as rumors swirled that this integration was nearing readiness. Further whispers propelled the value of MOB into the stratosphere as well, nice for those holding it but not for people who want to use it to pay someone back for a meal. All of a sudden you've given your friend a Benjamin (or perhaps now, in the U.K., a Turing) for no good reason, or that the sandwich has depreciated precipitously since lunchtime.
There's no reason you have to hold the currency, of course, but swapping it for stable or fiat currencies every time seems a chore. Speaking to Wired, Signal co-founder Moxie Marlinspike envisioned an automatic trade-out system, though he is rarely so free with information like that if it is something under active development.
While there is some risk that getting involved with cryptocurrency, with the field's mixed reputation, may dilute or pollute the goodwill Signal has developed as a secure and disinterested service provider, the team there seems to think it's inevitable. After all, if popular payment services are being monitored the same way your email and social media are, perhaps we ought to nip this one in the bud and go end-to-end encrypted as quickly as possible.