Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Encrypted messaging app Signal adds facial recognition protection for protesters

Signal adds a blur tool that can obscure faces.

Alexandra Garrett Associate Editor
Alexandra is an associate editor on CNET's Performance Optimization team. She graduated from Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, and interned with CNET's Tech and News teams while in school. Prior to joining CNET full time, Alexandra was a breaking news fellow at Newsweek, where she covered current events and politics.
Expertise Culture, How-To, Tech, Home, Wellness, Money, News
Alexandra Garrett
2 min read

How Signal's new tool works.


Encrypted messaging app Signal unveiled a blur tool on Wednesday that can be used to hide faces in photos before sharing them. Signal said the tool aims to protect the identities of protesters currently demonstrating against police brutality.

While in the app's image editor, users can tap on the new blur icon at the top of the screen and the tool will automatically detect and blur the faces in the picture. The tool also gives the option to manually blur out other areas of the image such as tattoos, logos, street signs and badges. 

"These system libraries are not perfect. They don't detect every face 100% of the time, and these flaws and potential biases meant that it was important to extend their default functionality so that you can always draw with the blur brush to manually obscure additional faces or areas in a photo," Signal said in a blog post. "We've also been working to figure out additional ways we can support everyone in the street right now."

Signal has seen a spike in downloads as demonstrations grow across the US following the killing of George Floyd on May 25. Since that day, the app has been downloaded 121,000 times in the US, according to Recode, citing data from Apptopia. 

The blur tool could offer protesters some protection from facial recognition , which is increasingly being used by law enforcement even though it's not always accurate, especially among ethnic groups, women and young people.

The face blurring tool will be added to the latest version of the Android and iOS app. Signal said the update has already been submitted to app stores and will be available soon.