Recently Signal has started asking people to sponsor them, and I’m actually really glad that this is happening.
There are many companies out there offering “free services”, but, generally, companies that offer free instant messaging are often doing it to build a detailed profile on you, what you believe, how you behave, and how you feel about an important topic. They do this so they can then sell advertising (or, often, propaganda). Or they’ll use this data to figure out how to manipulate large amounts of people in harmful ways – just for the sake of profits!
And this is an inescapable reality: if you’re not giving them any money to provide the service, then somebody else is giving them money to provide that service, and you’re not really the client: you’re the just product they’re selling.
Signal has always focused on security, privacy, and no spying on users. They’ve designed their systems to work in a way that user’s don’t even send readable data to them, so they don’t even handle any delicate information.
And there’s something very unintuitive that’s worrying about this: if they don’t sell our data, then how will they continue operating? How do I know they won’t just close shop, or sell out because they have no more cash influx?
Well, if they ask their users to sponsor them, they have an income They don’t need to worry about going broke, so they can focus on implementing more features that people want – since that should make them more likely to sponsor Signal. And it makes it a bit clearer who the client is.
Let’s not be naive here: a service provide can charge their users and also focus on spying on them. This particular case does not seem to be so.
This has the potential to turn Signal into a sustainable private messaging client, and so far, all the chat clients out there have struggled on this aspect: making a sustainable business model that both users and provider believe can survive long-term.
I mean, developers need to pay bills like anyone else, so I can understand them unconditionally trying to have some income. I much prefer that to be done by asking their users to sponsor them rather than advertising companies paying them to spy on us.