Google adds support for end-to-end encryption for group chats in Messages

Ashwin
Dec 5, 2022
Apps
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Google has announced that it is rolling out end-to-encryption for group chats in its Messages app. The feature will be available for users who have enabled Rich Text Communication Services (RCS).

Google Messages app end to end encryption for group chats

Google Messages rolls out end-to-end encryption for group chats

RCS has been around since 2007, though it really only kicked off a few years ago when mobile carriers started supporting it. Unlike SMS (and MMS) which are sent through your mobile carrier's network and bill you for it, RCS also works over Wi-Fi, so it can be used for free providing you have access to a network. You will still need a phone number to communicate using RCS. The key advantages that RCS offers over the other protocols are that it supports modern features like typing indicator, read receipts, rich text support, emojis, share high resolution photos and videos, etc.

RCS also supports better security options, including end-to-end encryption for messages. The feature was introduced last year, but until now it only worked for personal chats.  Google is now expanding this feature, by adding support for E2E in group chats. End-to-end encryption is rolling out for group chats to some users in the open beta program. If you haven't participated in the beta test yet, you can sign up for it on the app's Google Play Store page.

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The search giant says that E2E for group chats will be available for more users in the coming weeks. Google's Messages app, which is the default SMS app on Android devices, is also gaining another improvement. It will soon allow users to react to RCS messages with emojis.

Google Messages will add support for reactions in RCS

Green versus blue bubbles

Google also took a swipe at Apple regarding the green versus blue bubbles conundrum. The issue got its name because of the background color used in the Messages app for iOS. When you use your iPhone to text someone who also uses an iPhone, the chat bubble has a blue background. If the recipient has an Android phone, the app indicates this with a Green background color for the bubble.

Let's talk a bit about why iMessage has been a problem. While most users around the world rely on WhatsApp, Telegram and other instant messaging services, the majority of people in the U.S. and some parts of Europe prefer texting. This is mostly because SMS is usually free for their monthly plans, while mobile data costs more.

The default messaging app on an iPhone is the Messages app, which is used for both SMS and iMessage. The latter supports end-to-end encryption, rich text formatting, the ability to share large files, etc., iOS, iPadOS, macOS and watchOS. So, what's the problem with this? iMessage is limited to Apple's devices, which means your conversations, aka text messages from your iPhone, iPad or Mac, to someone with an Android phone relies on the SMS protocol, and MMS for images and videos. As a result of this, your messages are not end-to-end encrypted. This video by MKBHD explores the issue in more detail.

It's kind of silly when you think about it, but this sort of platform exclusivity poses a serious security risk for users. This is also one of the reasons why Signal decided to ditch SMS support from its app, because those messages are not secure.

About a month ago, a Twitter user shared some screenshots of emails exchanged between Apple executives regarding the possibility of bringing iMessage to Android devices in 2013. Well, we know how that turned out. Apple could adopt RCS, but it has stubbornly refused to do so, which in turn puts its users' security at risk. Google criticized Apple by saying iPhone users'texting is stuck in the 1990s. I'd say that criticism is right on the money.

Summary
Google adds support for end-to-end encryption for group chats in Messages
Article Name
Google adds support for end-to-end encryption for group chats in Messages
Description
Google Messages is rolling out end-to-end encryption support for Group chats. The app is also getting an option to allow users to react to RCS messages with emojis.
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Ghacks Technology News
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Comments

  1. Yuliya said on December 5, 2022 at 3:14 pm
    Reply

    This feature has been available for a while now. It works when both are using Google Messages. May work on other clients too (Samsung Messages for instance), but usually these are a bit late on adopting new features. I like RCS.

  2. Martin Brinkmann said on December 5, 2022 at 7:59 pm
    Reply

    A bit late to the party, but better late than never, I guess.

  3. John G. said on December 5, 2022 at 9:35 pm
    Reply

    Very interesting feature. Thanks @Ashwin for the article!

  4. Anonymous said on December 6, 2022 at 1:24 am
    Reply

    I wonder if there’s any country using SMS outside US? SMS is totally dead after Whatsapp thrive here.

    “RCS also works over Wi-Fi, so it can be used for free providing you have access to a network.”

    Is there any source for this? All articles I read showed me that RCS is SMS replacement and mobile carrier reliant.

    1. ShintoPlasm said on December 6, 2022 at 12:22 pm
      Reply

      I can confirm that RCS works using data – both mobile as well as WiFi. Although it works as a sort-of replacement for SMS, it does not actually use the same system as bog-standard texts (so can’t function without data). Rather, the Messages app notifies you if there’s no data and the message has failed to send, and you have the option to automatically fallback onto SMS/MMS.

    2. OVERLORD OF COMMUNICATION said on December 6, 2022 at 12:27 pm
      Reply

      In Finland carriers offer unlimited calls/MMS/SMS/Mobile Data with your monthly fee, which depends on what internet speed you want. SMS is alive and well, only children and oblivious adults use WhatsApp. “because I thought that’s what everyone does!” is usually the standard answer.. They also try and act all hip and cool and ultraprogressive about it, but in the end it’s just a glorified textmessage service that is controlled by Zuckerberg. One should also take the encrypted bits with a huge blob of salt, once you have committed a serious enough crime all your WhatsApp messages will be provided to the police. This is a 100% fact. Same goes for every other “safe” messaging service. Want to get in touch with me? Send SMS. Wanna videocall? First send me an SMS about it, then install WIRE. I will too. Afterwards I will uninstall WIRE, until I need it the next time. Have a looooooot of text you wanna share? Email is invented, give it a shot. Wanna call? There’s a PHONECALL FUNCTION IN YOUR PHONE. WhatsApp-sheep are embarrassing. You do not need an app for everything.

      1. ShintoPlasm said on December 6, 2022 at 1:08 pm
        Reply

        What do you do when you want to send photos to someone? Emails are a bit of a drag and not as convenient or instantaneous.

      2. OVERLORD OF COMMUNICATION said on December 6, 2022 at 3:11 pm
        Reply

        @shintoplasm

        MMS, duhhh…

      3. Anonymous said on December 7, 2022 at 1:09 am
        Reply

        @OVERLORD OF COMMUNICATION
        Finland is like US then?

        People use Whatsapp because it’s cheap, virtually free if you always use it on Wifi.
        One minute of call using regular phone function will cost one lunch here.

        Must be nice living in Finland.

  5. Anonymous said on December 6, 2022 at 2:51 am
    Reply

    Too bad no one I know uses RCS :(

  6. anona said on December 6, 2022 at 10:29 am
    Reply

    RCS is just Google’s iMessage. It’s NOT an open standard and at the moment I don’t see why Apple would want to bother.

    1. RCS in itself is NOT end-to-end encrypted, only Google’s own RCS extension is
    2. There is no app except for Google Messages (and Samsung Messages I think) that supports RCS at the moment.
    3. Google has not published any APIs or guidelines for third-party app developers to create their own RCS app.
    4. RCS only works on Android with Google Messages. It does not work on iOS, on AOSP/degoogled Android, KaiOS, SailfishOS, the Pinephone, or dumbphones.

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