Google Allo has issues with privacy due to the lack of end-to-end encryption by default. Edward Snowden has advised against using the app on social media, and it collects a lot of user data on the side. But what are the privacy issues, and why do they matter?
If you need to know more before you download the Google offering, check our guide for more information about the supposed “future of communication.”
What Is Google Allo?
Google Allo is an app that was hyped at the future of private communication. As well as an incognito mode, it was promised that normal messages wouldn’t be stored on an accessible server. Instead, they would be stored “transiently.” Your messages couldn’t be linked to you, so there was true privacy. (At least in the sense that nobody could access your messages unless they looked at your device or the phone you sent it to.)
The problems with the app stem from a change in their stance regarding user privacy. Originally, Allo was meant to be used primarily as a secure means of communication. Google then decided to drop those features to help Smart Reply work more efficiently. (Smart Reply is essentially a predictive messaging service which learns from you to provide better responses over time.)
Now, all messages are saved indefinitely on Google’s servers, as Google collects user data to improve the responses listed by Smart Reply. Smart Reply is a neat feature, and it’s probably better than using dictation in terms of message speed and accuracy. However, the issues with privacy have led a number of users to question the motivation behind their change of tack.
When it comes to privacy, your phone is one of the most important things to protect. Access to our private messages crosses a line, and most of us would agree that it’s important to have a place where we can communicate with one another freely. Most of us have nothing to hide, but that isn’t the point.
Our personal messages are pretty sacred, and it’s a tough sell to give them out freely to Google just so we can generically respond at a slightly faster rate. Nonetheless, you can wipe out the logs and records that Google have made from within the app. It’s just an issue because some users may not realise that it’s not configured that way by default.
The change to how they store messages means that law enforcement in countries such as the U.S. will find it easier to access information if they contact Google for your chat logs. They can be found on the Google servers if the data hasn’t been deleted by the user.
Incognito mode can still be used if you’re worried about privacy, but it might be better to stick to iMessage or WhatsApp if it’s your main concern.
It’s a shame that they haven’t been able to keep to their promises, but Google Allo is still a good app underneath it all. If you’re not bothered about the fallout regarding privacy, it does look to be a decent alternative to more established communication apps out there.
Nonetheless, it was more the manner of their change in tack that led to the negativity. We’re all vaguely aware of the dossiers full of personal information companies like Google could have about us, but that doesn’t mean that we’re willing to let them in to one of the last parts of our devices that is actually secure.
Messages are one of the most personal sections of our phones. It’s one of the few places where we can be honest with each other in relative safety, and that’s why some people were so unhappy with the idea that they could be accessed easily.
It’s still in the early days considering the app was released recently, and it’ll keep improving in the coming weeks and months with additional updates. Will Smart Reply be worth letting Google in to your personal messages? It’s up to the user to decide, but it is worth noting the warnings of Snowden and other privacy advocates.
Image credit: Oxford Street, London