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Signal starts testing privacy-focused payments feature based on cryptocurrencies

Signal is testing a new peer-to-peer payments system, the messaging app announced on Tuesday. Named “Signal Payments”, the new feature will support the MobileCoin wallet protocol, which has its own cyrptocurrency “MOB”. While the feature is being rolled out to beta users in the United Kingdom, it will be expanded elsewhere, the company said.

Jun Harada, Signal’s head of growth and communication, said in the announcement post: “The first payments protocol we’ve added support for is a privacy focused payments network called MobileCoin, which has its own currency, MOB.” MOB is presently listed only on the cryptocurrency exchange FTX. MobileCoin which raised $11 million in funding last month, has close ties to Signal. It is advised by Moxie Marlinspike, the creator of Signal.

Harada said Signal’s goal is “to keep your data in your hands rather than ours”. He explained that MobileCoin’s design doesn’t allow Signal access to the user’s balance, full transaction history or funds. “You can also transfer your funds at any time if you want to switch to another app or service,” he said.

In an interview to Wired, Marlinspike said the payments feature was an attempt to extend Signal’s privacy protections to payments. “There’s a palpable difference in the feeling of what it’s like to communicate over Signal, knowing you’re not being watched or listened to, versus other communication platforms,” he told Wired.

From the announcement, Signal presumably does not want users to connect their bank accounts to its Payments interface. For now, it is solely depending on cryptocurrency. It remains to be seen if this approach will find acceptance in India, where the NPCI-led Unified Payments Interface (UPI) commands a formidable lead in mobile payments. WhatsApp, the largest messaging service in India to whom Signal is touted as a privacy-oriented alternative, supports UPI payments.

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Signal will also find it challenging to drive adoption of a cryptocurrency-based solution in India, where the government is considering outright banning the trade of cryptocurrencies.  In January, the government announced it would introduce a new bill to ban “private” cryptocurrencies, while simultaneously allowing for the

In January, the government announced that it would introduce The Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021, which will ban “private” crypto-currencies while at the same time providing the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) with the requisite legal powers to develop a central bank-backed digital currency (CBDC), according to an official Lok Sabha Bulletin Part II for the Budget Session 2021 of Parliament.

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