What is Censorship Circumvention in Signal and Should You Enable it?

If you’ve been keeping track of all the ins and outs of the tech community over the last couple of weeks, you must have already come across a bunch of news pieces involving Signal. The non-profit application looks set to steal a chunk of WhatsApp’s userbase, and for good reason.

Unlike the Facebook-owned corporation, Signal doesn’t plan on selling your data to multi-billion dollar advertising companies, and it promises to keep your data encrypted as well as it can. 

Apart from the standard privacy features, Signal also comes with something called ‘Censorship Circumvention,’ which can come in particularly handy if you below to certain countries. Today, we’ll talk about what it is and how to enable it on your device. 

Related: How to Block and Unblock Someone in Signal

What is Censorship Circumvention? 

As the name suggests, Censorship Circumvention simply means that an app/service — Signal, for example — would find its way to you, irrespective of what the censorship rules might say.

For example, if you live in a country where visiting a certain website isn’t allowed, you might use a proxy service to bypass the censorship. That way, when you use the banned service, the authority would not be able o pick up your scent and think that you’re engaged in something else, which isn’t restricted or prohibited. 

Related: Signal vs WhatsApp vs Telegram

How does Signal use Censorship Circumvention?

In some countries, using services that implement End-to-End Encryption isn’t appreciated. The government usually like to keep track of its citizen, and E2EE makes it impossible to do that. Signal also implements VoIP, which isn’t allowed by some countries, especially in the Middle East.

To evade these handicaps, Signal piggybacks off trusted vendors, such as Amazon or Google, through “Domain Fronting.” When enabled, Signal doesn’t appear as a separate entity; simply a part of the Google or Amazon lineup. Additionally, thanks to Transport Layer Security, Internet Service Providers cannot see what data is being transmitted by the users. They only see a trusted Amazon website or a routine Google search, meaning that the actual Signal data packets remain neatly masked. 

Related: How to Stop Your Signal Calls From Showing up in the Phone App on iPhone

Which countries have banned Signal? 

At the point of writing, Signal is banned in Egypt, Oman, Iran Qatar, and the UAE. China, despite banning the likes of WhatsApp and Telegram, hasn’t yet banned the Signal application yet. Except for Iran, Signal was using Google App Engine to bypass the sanctions in the other four countries. However, since fronting through Google App Engine doesn’t work — due to internal policies — in Iran, Signal used AWS to enable Domain Fronting. 

However, both Google and AWS have strictly asked Signal to stop Domain Fronting and have stopped allowing any apps to do the same. In the UAE, at least, many local ISPs and telecom companies are allowing access to Signal, which is encouraging. 

Related: How to Hide Your IP Address During VoIP Calls on Signal

How to turn on Censorship Circumvention

You cannot turn on Censorship Circumvention on PC clients, of course, but there’s also a bit of discrimination when it comes to Android and iOS clients. 

Related: How to Unlock Signal App

iOS

On iOS devices, you can turn on Censorship Circumvention to evade any sanction that may have in your country or the country you’re visiting. First, launch Signal and head over to your inbox.

Now, tap on your profile picture in the top-left corner. 

Then, go to ‘Advanced.’

Finally, enable ‘Censorship Circumvention’ by activating the toggle right next to it. 

Related: How to Stop PIN Reminders on Signal

Android

If you’re on Android, you won’t find the ‘Censorship Circumvention’ option in Settings. On the Google-owned platform, it’s apparently an automated process, which comes into play when you enter your phone number. Going by Signal’s code the service only gets activated when your phone number has one of these four country codes: “+20 (Egypt)” “+971(UAE)” “+968(Oman)” “+974(Qatar)” 

The Censorship Circumvention feature might also get activated based on your GPS location. 

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Posted by
Sushan

A mediocre engineer hoping to do something extraordinary with his pen (well, keyboard). Loves Pink Floyd, lives football, and is always up for a cup of Americano.

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