US bans WeChat, Chinese turn to Signal—decentralization is the answer

President Donald Trump announced this week his intention to ban US companies from transacting with the Chinese payment and messenger app WeChat, leading to a spike in downloads for the privacy-first messenger app Signal – and the debate resurrected decentralized platforms.

The US president is Thursday executive order is so far vague, but “any transaction” with the platform of US companies will be banned. The order, which also prohibits such transactions with the social media app TikTok, will take effect on September 20.

The conversation about banning TikTok started this year because the Trump administration was concerned about the app collecting data from users and the potential ties that its parent company, ByteDance, has with the Chinese government.

The WeChat ban was too on the cards for a while. The two countries continue to aggressively clash during the coronavirus pandemic.

But while the US government warned against banning WeChat, downloads of the Signal app for private messaging were booming in China, according to a CNBC report. Unlike other messaging apps – Telegram, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp – Signal is not banned in China.

So Worried Chinese living, studying, or doing business in the US can instead of using WeChat, go to the top-secret app to communicate with family and friends without fear of government snooping or shutdown – for now.

Signal downloads were too in the elevator in Hong Kong after mainland China’s new security law hit the region. Despite the popularity of WeChat in China, it doesn’t have the same level of encryption as apps like Signal and WhatsApp.

The case for blockchain-based chat apps

But even though Signal is safe, it could be technically banned tomorrow by the Chinese – or US – government. That’s why decentralized chat apps or messaging systems are a must according to some.

“Decentralized chat would solve this problem completely [of government bans and snooping], Says Brad Kam, the co-founder of Dapp Unstoppable Domains, a decentralized domain name registrar who has built an Ethereum-based decentralized chat app, Chat that can’t be stopped.

“The problem is that user data is on Tencent’s [WeChat’s owner] servers and is passed directly to the Chinese government. If WeChat was a decentralized chat app, users would manage their own messages stored on P2P storage networks. Not even WeChat would be able to read the messages, ”he said.

He added that Signal can still disable users and any messaging app can be “hacked or shut down”.

“Communication channels should not be pawns for geopolitical games,” he said. “It should be provision for the people of the world.”

Chris Troutner, a Bitcoin Cash developer, also shared Decoding that decentralized messaging systems are the way forward.

Its highly encrypted messaging system based on Bitcoin Cash transactions, bch-encrypt, went live this year. His team is working on refining it: an end-to-end encrypted messaging system that looks and feels a lot like email.

He said that while Signal and Telegram are highly praised for their privacy options, they could still be banned by governments.

“Decentralized, open source, and end-to-end encrypted, ”he added. ‘You really need all three [with a messaging app]. ”