MOXIE MARLINSPIKE Steve Jennings Getty Images

Steve Jennings/Getty Images

Moxie Marlinspike

CEO and Cofounder, Signal

In the past few months, Signal has gone from a relatively niche app used by journalists and activists to a crucial messaging staple. Signal has catered aggressively to the growing demand for an easy-to-use encrypted app for protesters and organizers. Signal lets people send photos, videos, and messages using end-to-end encryption that would prevent law enforcement from seeing their communications if their phone was confiscated or hacked.

The app was launched five years ago by Moxie Marlinspike, who grew the business from three employees to more than 20. Even though Signal is unique in its dedication to privacy, Marlinspike says it’s merely fulfilling people’s basic expectations that they won’t be tracked by private companies or governments, a guarantee that many popular apps can’t make.

“The project of Signal is basically to make technology normal, make it what it appears on the surface, where data isn’t being shared with other entities,” Marlinspike tells Business Insider.

People are downloading Signal at an unprecedented rate. Its popularity spiked in June, when it became the eighth most downloaded social-networking app among US iPhone users. That coincided with a wave of protests against police brutality. Many have encouraged the use of encrypted messaging in order to protect themselves, as law-enforcement officials have used unconventional tactics, such as tracing activity on sites like Etsy, to track down and arrest protesters.

Other recent events have emphasized the importance of end-to-end encryption and privacy that Signal was built around — including a high-profile Twitter hack that compromised more than a dozen accounts’ direct messages and ongoing attempts by the Justice Department to pressure tech giants to undermine encryption.

“It’s important to realize that real change happens in private,” Marlinspike says. “If you don’t have any truly private spaces left, I think you’re sacrificing a lot.”