Telegram released a new version of its encrypted messaging app today that allows for account signups using purchasable blockchain-based identities instead of real phone numbers. In addition, version 9.2 includes the ability to auto-delete messages on a timer for new chats, and there’s an upgrade to the forum-like Topics feature.
Users had been required to use their mobile phone number to sign up for Telegram, similar to other end-to-end encrypted messaging apps like Signal and WhatsApp. While Telegram maintains that your phone number is never visible to unknown people, it’s still an identifier that inherently stops you short of full anonymity.
To get an anonymous number, you need to go purchase one through the Fragment blockchain, which you pay for using Toncoin — an offshoot from Telegram’s halted crypto efforts. Unfortunately, for interested US residents, Fragment does not operate in the country. But if you have access to purchase the number, it can now be used in the Telegram app. Similarly, the company started auctioning shortform and collectible usernames this year, also sold with crypto.
On iOS, Telegram doesn’t mention the anonymous number feature in the App Store description. During the signup process, though, you can manually punch in the country code 888, and then it’ll ask for your anonymous number. With the latest version of Telegram on Android, however, “Anonymous Numbers” is in the countries list.
There’s otherwise no indication of suppression of the feature by Apple, but the company has blocked new Telegram features before, and Telegram CEO Pavel Durov has criticized Apple for getting updates out too slowly. In messages posted to Telegram, Durov calls Fragment “an amazing success” that already generated over $50 million in sales in less than a month. According to Durov, thanks to these monetization schemes, “Telegram will be able to pay for the servers, traffic and wages necessary to keep building new features and supporting existing ones. While some other apps consider their users a tool to maximize revenue, we consider revenue a tool to maximize value for our users.”
As for the other new additions in version 9.2, Telegram is extending its longtime self-destructing messages feature to work on a timer. For all new chats, including group chats, you can now set a date and time to Mission: Impossible self-destruct messages. It’s possible to extend this setting to older messages as well by going to Settings > Privacy and Security > Auto-Delete Messages. And Telegram’s Topics 2.0 continues its discussion board style of group messaging but now extends its participation limit to over 100 people.
Telegram recently released new features like voice-to-text video transcriptions and launched its $5-per-month premium service that gives users more upload capacity, no ads, and other features. With new auto-delete and SIM card-free account features, this closed-source messaging platform “delivers ultimate privacy,” according to the company.