Allo, Google’s New Messaging Service Leaves User Privacy Up to the User

Allo, Google’s new user messaging app with Google Assistant built in, offers automatic generated responses called Smart Replies as well as other computer-generated suggestions.

Seems like a lot of useful features, right? Well it turns out that these features and options come with a big price to your online privacy, which Google confirmed yesterday. Instead of keeping messages on Google servers for a short period of time, Google is going to keep them forever, until users delete them. Google made the knowledge public yesterday, which was in contrast to what it had released before its annual developer conference in May.

In the beginning, Google considered keeping messages in a “transient” way, studies of Allo showed that its Smart Reply technology worked better if it had a longer history of user messages to draw from. The change makes Allo different from other messaging apps with built in privacy settings by default, as opposed to letting the user decide when to get rid of messages. This is also likely to give Google less of a headache when it comes to government agencies looking for copies of user’s communications.

“We’ve given users transparency and control over their data in Google Allo, and our approach is simple. Your chat history is saved for you until you choose to delete it. You can delete single messages or entire conversations in Allo,” A spokesperson for Google said.

Allo also comes with an Incognito Mode, which unlike the browser mode, offers end-to-end encryption.

It may seem like all the user choices are a great thing to have, but that’s not always the case.

EFF Global Policy Analyst Eva Galperin stated:

“In apps that let users switch between private and less-private modes, users either choose the wrong mode or mistakenly believe the whole app is safe. When people have those kinds of choices, it’s too easy to mess up.”

Facebook’s WhatsApp, and Apple’s iMessage have taken it upon themselves to decide when to delete messages and the use of encryption. All messages passing through these two services, are end-to-end encrypted by default.

Google says it wasn’t trying to offer up services with default encryption because its Smart Reply feature needs to be able to read messages in order to do its job correctly. They also stated that if they were to have kept messages for a shorter amount of time, it would have been a concession to privacy in its new app.

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