The UK's majority political party switches to private messaging app Signal

Signal app
Signal app (Image credit: Android Central)

What you need to know

  • UK's Conservative Party is ditching WhatsApp for Signal, a private, encrypted messaging app.
  • Signal messages can be set to disappear forever after being viewed, helping to prevent security leaks.
  • Signal allows all 365 MPs to be placed in a single messaging group, while WhatsApp maxes out at 256 members.

The UK's majority political party, the Conservative Party, is officially switching from WhatsApp for its group messaging platform, as noted by The Guardian. The new app of choice? Signal (opens in new tab), a private messaging app the offers end-to-end encryption for messages and calls, the ability to make messages disappear automatically after a set period of time, and the capability to add all 365 Conservative members of Parliament (MPs) to the same group.

While the size of messaging groups is being cited as the main reason for the switch, another important reason cites years of leaks from using WhatsApp, but it's not what you might think. Although WhatsApp has been the victim of a few vulnerabilities and security issues recently, those problems were fixed quickly so long as you kept the app up-to-date. Signal offers a way to make messages disappear over time, sort of how Snapchat or other similar messaging apps can be set to only display a message for a set period of time before it goes away forever.

While it's not likely that any messages containing sensitive information related to national security would ever be scattered into a chat group containing 365 members, there are plenty of bits of information that reporters have been able to glean over the past four years because WhatsApp messages stay around forever. Secure apps like Signal are able to disable functions like screenshots, further helping users keep messages and information private only for the individuals they are intended for. It also highlights the importance for government officials to securely communicate; something that's all too easy to forget in our mostly-digital world.

Signal app features

Source: Signal (Image credit: Source: Signal)

This disappearing messaging functionality, complete with the fact that messages are encrypted end-to-end, flies in the face of memos and meetings that have been held as recently as July, calling for backdoor access to messaging apps by 'Five Eyes' nations. The particular irony of ditching WhatsApp for a more private messaging system is that lawmakers specifically pointed out the need for WhatsApp to include such a backdoor spying system for law enforcement, citing its use by 1.5 billion people around the world, making it the world's largest messaging service.

This probably isn't the first time you've ever seen the name 'Five Eyes' before if you regularly read tech news. It's the name for a group of nations that share intelligence with each other and includes Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, and they routinely meet to discuss important security matters and, of course, how to better co-operate in regards to sharing intelligence and making information more accessible to law enforcement.

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Nicholas Sutrich
Senior Content Producer — Smartphones & VR
Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu
  • Of course that scum have to have secure encryption. It's just Johnny Public that doesn't deserve the right to privacy.
  • At least they go in the right direction... Dropping WhatsApp is always good idea regardless...
  • Anyone can use Signal. Great messaging application.
  • I use Whatsapp as my default messaging app these days. Everyone I know and care about uses it too – even dyed-in-the-wool iPhone users. However, it's always sat uneasy with me that Whatsapp is owned by Facebook. I notice that the opening toast screen of Whatsapp now says something like 'Whatsapp by Facebook', just to remind us all of just who's in charge. For now though, I'm happy to keep using Whatsapp until we discover a show-stopping reason not too (i.e. proven insecurity, spying, advertising etc). All that said, I'd never use Whatspp for 'serious' communication. And I can't say I blame any organisation, political or otherwise, who choose to use Signal (or something like it) instead of Whatsapp. It's a sweet irony though. Don't the current government want to build all sorts of 'backdoors' into encrypted messaging systems? You know, in the name of keeping the country safe from evil people plotting evil deeds? Maybe we need a backdoor into this Conservative Party group so we can see what evil deeds they're all plotting...
  • 2 things Signal needy to provide functionality wise are: Firstly, send a notification to the other party when one tables a screenshot of the conversation. Secondly, give users the ability to recall a message. I understand messages can be timed but, that's for the most part a housekeeping function that auto deletes texts. It's good that it does it on both contacts phones though. If anything, it makes sure your better half doesn't bust your butt when you're playing the field. Good app but that screenshot notification like BBM and Snapchat would be fantastic. And yes.. I know folks can take a picture but the vast majority of people don't want around with two phones.