Google started to roll out Allo, its second new messaging app released this year, yesterday. While the roll out is still going on, it is clear already that Google changed things around a bit in regards to privacy and security.
The main selling point of Allo is a bot or AI that Google baked into the messaging application that assists you in a variety of tasks.
This ranges from suggesting answers to messages that you get to offering to look up information when a movie runs in a cinema nearby.
The company announced initially that Allo would not save chat messages on Google servers permanently or in identifiable form.
While that would be the right thing to do from a security and privacy point of view, considering that no one but the chat recipients would have access to messages, it is not what is happening.
Messages will be encrypted between user devices and Google servers, but they are stored in a way that Google gets access to the messages.
The Verge reports that Google did this to improve the assistant's functionality, as it uses the information to learn and become better when it comes to suggesting responses.
As the Allo team tested those replies, they decided the performance boost from permanently stored messages was worth giving up privacy benefits of transient storage.
The downside to this from a privacy perspective is that law enforcement, and anyone else who manages to get access to Google's servers, may access the data.
This is why Edward Snowden recommends not to use Allo.
What is #Allo? A Google app that records every message you ever send and makes it available to police upon request.
Free for download today: Google Mail, Google Maps, and Google Surveillance. That's
#Allo. Don't use Allo.
Allo does ship with a feature called Incognito Mode though. It is disabled by default and needs to be enabled by the user for individual chats.
All messages written while in Incognito Mode are not stored and fully end-to-end encrypted. This means that Google does not have access to those messages.
Allo users trade privacy of their messages for convenience. The bulk of users -- indifferent to privacy and security -- won't know and won't care without the shadow of a doubt. Those who do will forego Allo and miss out on features that no one really needs.
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