Heads of large companies discussing sensitive corporate data across the globe and teenagers talking about their latest crush may turn to their mobile devices to keep the conversations secret from eavesdroppers.
Both of these contrasting groups seek privacy when chatting on the mobile devices. Corporate execs and teenagers have flocked to messaging apps that offer end-to-end encryption, such as Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp Inc. or Dallas Mavericks owner and “Shark Tank” stars Mark Cuban’s Cyber Dust. End-to-end encryption only allows senders and recipients of the messages—via text, chat, voice or video—to view the content. Encryption is a strong privacy enabler, but one that many law enforcement officials decry as a means for criminals to evade detection.
Now, these groups can turn to a new messaging service that has entered the end-to-end encryption game. Google introduced Sept. 20 its new “smarter messaging app” called Allo. Although Allo doesn’t default to end-to-end encryption, users will be able to select “Incognito” mode to activate enhanced encryption, discreet notifications and message expiration, Google said in a blog post introducing the messaging app.
Privacy advocacy groups may be trumpeting the release of a messaging app that truly aims to consumers who value their privacy, however, a recent report from The Verge highlights why the app isn’t truly the privacy king. According to the recent report, Google will store messages from users that don’t select the “Incognito” mode.
Whether law enforcement agencies will be able to access these stored messages is another debate entirely. Google has been ardent in its stance against warrantless searches of e-mails and other messages. Recently Google, joined by a group of 11 other tech companies, filed friend of the court briefs Sept. 2 backing Microsoft in its battle against the U.S. over sneak-and-peek searches. The group says that the U.S. government’s searches goes “far beyond any necessary limits” while infringing users’ fundamental rights.
Time will tell if Google decides to extend end-to-end encryption to all mobile messages or whether the search engine giant will keep the service for only the most tech-savvy users.
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