Signal, the encrypted messaging app beloved by tech privacy enthusiasts around the world (including Edward Snowden), is taking on the world of group video calls. The company rolled out a new video-based group chatting feature on Monday alongside its latest app update, promising these chats will have the same end to end encryption that keeps the platform’s text and voice calls private.
Over the next few weeks, Signal will move all of the legacy groups to the new layout, which features a video call button towards the top of the screen. Hitting that button will send out an alert to the group that a call’s been started. Group calls will default to showing everyone on the call in an onscreen grid, but that can be swapped out to focus on one speaker at a time.
This update makes a lot of sense on Signal’s part. As the global pandemic moved what used to be in-person functions into the virtual realm, people have been turning to video chats for everything from birthdays to weddings to funerals. And while Zoom might be the reigning champ when it comes to these sorts of calls, its security and privacy practices are still something of an utter shitshow. Meanwhile, some of the other free-to-use video-chatting options we’ve seen crop up over the past few months — like Facebook’s new Messenger Rooms feature or Google’s souped-up version of its Google Meet service — are still owned by, well, Facebook and Google. For many of us, Signal is an alternative that’s easier to stomach.
The only bad news right now is that Signal’s calls are capped at five callers, but the company promises that it’s “working to let you have even more participants in a group call soon.” The app should update automatically, but folks looking to download the latest edition manually can head over here.