Update on beta testing payments in Signal


As the world stands today, the future of transaction privacy does not look great. The existing landscape is dominated by traditional credit companies, who over the past decade have been steadily pushing their networks for increased access to user data. They (and their data customers) are on a track to getting SKU level data of every purchase everyone makes everywhere. There are other contenders, such as regional online payments networks (like Venmo in the US), but the data story there is similar.

This is not a future we are particularly excited about. At Signal, we want to help build a different kind of tech – where software is built for you rather than for your data – so these are trends that we watch warily.

Alternative futures

Simultaneously, there has been growing interest in cryptocurrency as an alternative payments infrastructure, and some projects within that space are building with privacy in mind. Many have noted that there is the potential to build a payments network with the user experience of Venmo, but with support across borders, and a privacy model that ensures your data stays in your hands.

Unfortunately, in the past decade, this has failed to substantially emerge. Much of the energy in the cryptocurrency space seems to have been channeled into other directions like asset speculation/finance. It’s still rare to find cryptocurrency projects that start with UX as a first principle.

The only exception may be Facebook, who appears ready to emerge with technology that will deliver on this promise — though not in the way everyone had hoped (notably, on privacy). The “alternative future” has been shaping up so that it may, very unfortunately, be Facebook.

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