Google announced its new messaging app Allo at its I/O developers conference today, and it looks pretty cool. It’s a feature-rich interface with graphics and doodles, and it works with Google Assistant to make suggestions and schedule plans. Allo even has an option for users to send their messages using end-to-end encryption, a security feature that has become increasingly popular and is the default in other chat apps like WhatsApp and Viber.
But the full-service experience Allo offers is at odds with the encryption it’s offering. In order for Google to add dinners with friends to your calendar or suggest replies, it needs to be able to read your messages — which it can’t do if your chats are end-to-end encrypted.
Allo, then, offers users a choice: privacy and security or entertainment and interactivity.
Most consumers will likely choose the latter, leaving security by the wayside, and civil liberties advocates are already voicing displeasure about it.
Making encryption opt-in was a decision made by the business and legal teams. It enables Google to mine chats and not piss off governments.
— Christopher Soghoian (@csoghoian) May 18, 2016
As the ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian points out in the tweet above, government agencies are probably a bit happier with messages being encrypted by choice rather than by default.
The FBI and other law enforcement agencies have complained that default encryption causes them to lose access to important communications they need in order to secure criminal convictions. If encryption isn’t a default, suspects may forget to turn it on and accidentally leave their messages exposed to law enforcement.
But those who choose to turn on Allo’s encryption, dubbed “incognito mode,” will be getting a highly regarded security protocol: Google partnered with Open Whisper Systems to use the company’s Signal Protocol. Signal Protocol also forms the backbone of WhatsApp’s and Signal’s encrypted messaging.