New Google messaging app to offer optional end-to-end encryption

New Google messaging app to offer optional end-to-end encryption
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Google on Wednesday announced that its new messaging service, Allo, will offer end-to-end encryption.

That means that not even Google will be able to access the content of users’ messages, a position that echoes the robust privacy posture of Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s WhatsApp.

In fact, Allo will use the same encryption protocol that WhatsApp uses — as well as the private messaging app Signal.

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But unlike iMessage, WhatsApp and other competitors, Google’s new offering does not feature encryption by default; users have to deliberately switch into “incognito” mode. The move has drawn some criticism from privacy advocates, who typically cheer advances in commercial encryption.

“Hey @google, what the shit? You support encryption? Turn it on by default, or don't bother playing,” tweeted Nate Cardozo, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights organization.

Some saw the move as an attempt to strike a middle ground in the toxic debate over encryption — as well as a nod towards Google’s data collection and analytics services.

“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,” tweeted Christopher Soghoian, chief technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union.

The release comes just months after Apple’s public blow-up with the FBI. The company refused to help the agency hack into the locked iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, arguing that to do so would undermine the security and privacy of millions of everyday users.

Although the FBI ultimately was able to hack into the device without Apple’s help, the fight inflamed a long-simmering dispute over the degree of access law enforcement should have to encrypted communications.

As tech companies have stiffened encryption to combat hackers — and, some say, bolster their reputation for protecting privacy in the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures — authorities say they have struggled to execute search warrants.

The fight has hardly been left to Apple to wage: In March, The New York Times reported that a criminal investigation by the Justice Department had been stymied by WhatsApp’s encryption.

The company announced its completed roll-out of end-to-end encryption for its more than a billion users in April. It received plaudits from technologists and privacy advocates and searing vitriol from opponents of so-called “warrant-proof” encryption.

“This is an open invitation to terrorists, drug dealers, and sexual predators to use WhatsApp's services to endanger the American people. We cannot allow companies to purposefully design applications that make it impossible to comply with court orders,” Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: Senators show skepticism over Space Force | Navy drops charges against officers in deadly collision | Trump taps next Navy chief Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal GOP senators introduce bill to reduce legal immigration  MORE (R-Ark.) argued in a statement that called the move part of “a dangerous trend in the tech and data world.”

Allo, which will run on both Android devices and Apple’s iPhone, is expected sometime this summer.