Google has announced that later this year it will be releasing a new messaging app called Allo.
You can think of it as a competitor to WhatsApp, iMessage or Signal.
Apart from there’s one big difference. Because, unlike those messaging apps which came before it, Allo doesn’t have end-to-end encryption enabled by default.
Instead, if users wish to feel confident that their private messages are properly protected from interception by unauthorised parties, they will have to change a setting in the app – enabling something called “Incognito” mode.
Seriously, it’s great that Google is going to have an end-to-end encryption option in Allo, and I’m reassured that they are partnering with Open Whisper Systems (developers of the Signal protocol) who are experts in secure messaging, but I want to know why it isn’t the default?
Because if there is one thing we have learnt over the years, it’s this. Few users ever change the default settings.
WhatsApp, iMessage and Signal all have end-to-end encryption by default. If Google Allo doesn’t do the same then… well… why would I ever want to use it?
It leaves me wondering quite why Google has taken this approach, especially since so many in the tech community have been keen to show their support for encryption in the wake of the FBI’s attempt to strong arm Apple into breaking into the San Bernardino iPhone.
I can only conclude that some of Allo’s features simply won’t be easy (or perhaps possible) for Google to implement if end-to-end encryption is in place. After all, the whole idea of end-to-end encryption is not just that criminal hackers and state intelligence agencies can’t snoop on your chats, but also that your provider (Google in this case) can’t see them either.
When you read Google’s description of Allo, you can see that the company wants to read your messages in order to learn more about you:
Allo has Smart Reply built in (similar to Inbox), so you can respond to messages without typing a single word. Smart Reply learns over time and will show suggestions that are in your style. For example, it will learn whether you’re more of a “haha” vs. “lol” kind of person. The more you use Allo the more “you” the suggestions will become. Smart Reply also works with photos, providing intelligent suggestions related to the content of the photo. If your friend sends you a photo of tacos, for example, you may see Smart Reply suggestions like “yummy” or “I love tacos.”
At the same time as the Allo announcement, Google offered a sneak preview of Duo – its new smartphone video-calling app.
Why would you use it instead of any of the other video chat apps out there? Well, the main differentiating feature in Duo that Google seems to be pushing is “Knock Knock” – offering a live video preview of the caller before you pick up the call.
The good news?
“we built Duo with privacy and security in mind and all calls on Duo are end-to-end encrypted.”
At least, for now, it doesn’t seem that video communications will be slacking when it comes to security.