Secure messaging app SOMA announced the launch of group voice and video calling for up to four people.
Users can now use the app to video chat with up to four friends from phones running both iOS and Android. According to the company, it is the only app to offer encrypted group video calling for free.
The app already has offered messaging for up to 500 people, making it a communication tool for businesses and even a hospital. Built in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco, the name also is an acronym for Simple Optimized Messaging App.
The encrypted messaging app launched in July, and its makers claim it is “safe enough for the CIA.” However they don’t market it to the government for one reason — not enough customers.
SOMA comes from Instanza, a company that launched out of The Harvard Innovation Lab. Instanza founders Lei Guo and Oliver Hayen say they are committed to providing free and secure communication. Down the line, they plan to monetize the app by adding games and app installation ads, but they never plan to charge for communication.
Guo and Hayen said that Instanza’s large group chatting ability separates it from other commonly used encrypted chatting apps. They think the ability to group chat will set it apart from other mobile video calling apps that are popular, like FaceTime and Skype.
The launch of SOMA’s new service comes as encryption and secure messaging are under scrutiny from politicians. After reports surfaced that the terrorists responsible for the attacks in Paris used encryption to communicate, politicians in the U.S. and Europe have called for technology companies to make sure encrypted data is not beyond the scope of a government warrant.
Guo and Hayen say they have received inquiries from law enforcement, but they created SOMA to protect users’ privacy. Because they can’t access users’ information themselves, they can’t cooperate with such requests.
“I think why is it even coming up for discussion?” Guo said. “Would you want the government to have a key to your house?”