Google officially launched its widely anticipated messaging app, Allo, last September.
The App is poised to become a major competitor of the popular WhatsApp and iMessage.
However, former NSA contractor and whistleblower, Edward Snowden has informed smartphone users to avoid the app due to a number of privacy concerns.
Edward Snowden strongly feels that the smart messaging app could be a honeypot for government surveillance efforts.
It is important to note that Edward Snowden is not the only that holds the same opinion on Google’s new app.
In order to understand the basis of Snowden’s sentiments, one has to understand the nuances of the messaging app.
What is Allo
Google Allo is an instant smart messaging mobile phone app designed for Android and iOS platforms.
The app was announced in May this year at Google I/O developer conference.
As promised, Google launched the app officially on the 21st September.
Among the main features of the app include a virtual assistant and the “smart reply” feature.
The smart reply function was developed to facilitate the delivery of fast conversations.
Through artificial intelligence and complex algorithms, the app is able to recognize and analyze the user’s responses.
It collects and stores this data over time and utilizing it to guess users’ responses which it then suggests.
This data may also be kept for formulation of personalized ads. As such, it is possible to use the app without even typing.
The problem with the app and that which Edward Snowden and others are worried about is this collection of user data.
Google’s Contribution to the Issue
Google also has a part in fueling these sentiments about their messaging app.
When the company first announced the messaging app in May, they assured users that the app’s “Incognito Mode” should cause no worries about privacy concerns.
At the time, Google stated that Allo employs high-end encryption and the messages users send and receive would be stored transiently, rather than permanently.
However, last September’s announcement was different and revealed that the default mode of the app would result in indefinite storage of user messages.
This issue does not sit well with Edward Snowden and many other smartphone users.
It does raise some questions about Google’s promise to delete user messages. Compounding the situation is the fact that Google failed to formally announce this critical change.
The Main Basis of Edward Snowden’s Fears
As it currently stands, Allo users who fail to switch to Incognito Mode bear the risk of having their messages retained.
This could potentially provide fresh farming grounds for government surveillance, something that Edward Snowden is all too familiar with.
As with most chat apps, Allo uses HTTPS as a means to secure transmission between devices.
What this means is the data is safe from most hackers.
However, it is not safe from people with respective clearance to Google’s data centers.
Government agencies can also access this information using a subpoena.
Edward Snowden has always pointed out that subpoenas are not that hard to get.
The United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approves almost all subpoenas requested by the FBI and NSA.
Conversations in WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted, and government agencies cannot access them even upon request.
What Allo Users Can Do
Individuals who still want to use Google’s Allo despite Edward Snowden’s warnings can do so privately and securely by learning about the Incognito Mode. VPNs can also help.
In this mode, users will not be able to preview their message in the conversation list.
Also, the chats are end-to-end encrypted and will only be seen by the sender and recipient.
Google will not be able to read any of the messages, so the smart replay and Google assistant features are unavailable in Incognito Mode. Users can set their messages to expire.
Edward Snowden’s views are definitely founded on a considerable basis.
As such, the decision of smartphone users to adopt Google’s messaging app boils down to choice.
They will have to choose between limited compromise to their privacy and improved app usability.
Here are some important privacy/anonymity guides.
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