Signal is currently testing a new feature that allows users to use public usernames instead of phone numbers, providing an additional layer of privacy during communication. Jim O’Leary, Signal’s VP of Engineering, revealed that this long-anticipated feature is being tested in a separate staging environment from the stable Signal encrypted messaging service after multiple rounds of internal testing.
Furthermore, users can explore the functionalities of the new feature by registering for a staging account and navigating to Settings > Profile and Settings > Privacy > Phone Number. Signal encourages testing various features, including creating usernames, sharing username links, adjusting phone number sharing settings, and inviting individuals to groups using both usernames and phone numbers.
Additionally, usernames in Signal are paired with a set of digits and are not shared on user profiles. Each username comes with a unique QR code and link that users can share with friends to initiate chats. To enhance privacy further, users are advised to turn off phone number discovery under Settings > Privacy > Phone number > Who can find my number, making the username the primary contact method. Signal users can start testing the new username features by installing pre-beta build versions that will likely be updated daily.
At the same time, the testing process involves macOS and Windows desktop installers for Signal provided on the community website, Android users enrolling through Firebase for staging builds, and Linux users adding the Desktop Alpha apt repo and building the signal-desktop-staging build.
While the iOS staging build is not available via the App Store, iOS users can build their own Signal-Staging iOS app using the latest Signal-iOS source code. However, users are cautioned not to become attached to any data on staging builds, as they are early pre-release versions, and bugs may occur that require reinstallation to ensure a stable state. Signal President Meredith Whittaker initially mentioned the development of Signal usernames one year ago, allowing users to communicate without sharing their phone numbers. Registration still requires a phone number, but users have the option to keep it private.