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Signal app for private chats gets $50M boost from WhatsApp VIP

WhatsApp co-founder and former Facebooker Brian Acton is putting millions into the encrypted-chat app and will head up a new foundation devoted to furthering privacy.

Photo showing a key balanced on a circuit board.
What's the key to solid encryption technology? Well, pouring $50 million into its development can't hurt.
James Martin/CNET

Edward Snowden is probably happy about this. But the FBI might not be.

Signal, the popular technology designed to keep prying eyes out of instant messages and other computer communications, has just gotten a $50 million shot in the arm. The Signal Protocol is used in Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Skype, among other apps, including the standalone Signal Messenger.

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton is ponying up the money and will also serve as executive chairman of the new Signal Foundation, which is being established by Open Whisper Systems, the open-source project behind the Signal encryption technology. Acton left WhatsApp and Facebook last year.

The not-for-profit Signal Foundation will initially focus on improving Signal Messenger and may one day roll out other privacy-oriented technologies, according to a blog post published Wednesday by Acton and Signal Protocol co-author Moxie Marlinspike.

"As more and more of our lives happen online, data protection and privacy are critical," Acton wrote in the post. "Everyone deserves to be protected. We created the Signal Foundation in response to this global need. Our plan is to pioneer a new model of technology nonprofit focused on privacy and data protection for everyone, everywhere."

Snowden and others wary of surveillance have made known their fondness for the technology. There's a big debate over encryption though, with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies saying it's getting impossible for them to crack, creating an "urgent public safety issue" by handing criminals, terrorists and others an invaluable tool for planning their exploits.

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