Element celebrates The Great Facebook Outage with a Signal bridge for Matrix

Kudos given to Signal. Not so much for Facebook and Whatsapp


Interview Matrix-based communications and collaboration app Element has continued its mission to make bridges into the decentralised network a little more commercially acceptable with connectivity for Signal.

The update follows bridges for the likes of Teams, Slack and – recently – WhatsApp. The timing is interesting considering the recent woes of the Facebook tentacle.

Amandine Le Pape, co-founder of Element, had already given WhatsApp a jab with the privacy blade the last time we spoke and Element's CEO, Matthew Hodgson, joined the party during our chat about the Signal bridge.

"It's kind of unfortunate that clearly Facebook have technically tried to integrate WhatsApp and Instagram as tightly as they possibly can together," he observed.

"I can't possibly imagine why," he added, with a smile.

We could take a wild guess.

The rumour mill has run wild during the self-inflicted outage, with stories of engineers being locked out of data centres doing the rounds. Hodgson noted that he'd heard of staffers frantically trying to set up a Matrix platform to coordinate the response to the incident.

Element has had its own issues in recent weeks, although nothing on the scale of Facebook's incident. A vulnerability disclosed last month resulted in the potential for the exposure of encrypted messages on the network. Hodgson told us that the vulnerability had been found by the in-house security team and that no exploits had been detected.

Still, it's not an ideal situation and required a coordination with more Matrix clients than just Element itself in order to deal with the issue. "About two-thirds of them had fallen into the same trap," Hodgson observed.

The next generation SDK is written in Rust and apparently not vulnerable.

It could be worse. They could have done something like cocking up a Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) configuration change and stopped thousands of mad Uncles and Aunts spouting conspiracy theories for six hours (*cough* Facebook *cough*).

As for Signal, Element noted that both it and Matrix provide end-to-end encrypted communication. "We'd even go so far as to say," the company added, "that if you *wanted* to put all your messaging eggs into one centralised walled garden basket, Signal is probably the most sensible option. It doesn't have an ad-funded business model, and it doesn't productise its users."

That said, Element reckoned its product was better suited for enterprise users and those seeking to avoid the dreaded shadow IT.

As with the other bridges provided (at a fee) by Element, Signal users appear as Matrix users once they are connected.

Sadly, however, it's limited to messaging at present. Le Pape said that voice and video were "on the roadmap, but it's a bit more tricky."

Hodgson concurred, adding that native voice and video would be both end-to-end encrypted and scalable within Matrix itself. Also on the cards are indicators to better show when messages are being queued when the target system has a Facebook-esque whoopsie.

WhatsApp's woes have inadvertently demonstrated the benefits of a decentralised messaging system like Matrix. The addition of yet another supported bridge via Element is therefore to be welcomed. ®


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