Google Allo: Don't use it, says Edward Snowden

Google has come under fire again for the privacy choices it's made for its new smart chat app, Allo.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Edward Snowden has criticized Google's new messaging app.

Image: CBS News

Google's Allo messaging app and its Assistant bot have finally arrived, but Allo has been slammed for reneging on a promise that it would, by default, make it more difficult to spy on.

Because of the missing privacy feature, NSA-contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden's first take of Allo after yesterday's US launch is that it's just a honeypot for surveillance.

"Free for download today: Google Mail, Google Maps, and Google Surveillance. That's #Allo. Don't use Allo," wrote Snowden.

Free for download today: Google Mail, Google Maps, and Google Surveillance. That's #Allo. Don't use Allo. https://t.co/EdPRC0G7Py

-- Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 21, 2016

The latest controversy over Google app stems from an Allo product developer from Google's communications division telling The Verge in May that chats sent on the app would be "transiently" stored on its servers. But, according to The Verge, Allo developers have decided to ditch transient storage.

Had Allo been designed so that chat logs vanished by default from Google's servers after a short time, they would have been difficult to access if law enforcement presented Google with a warrant. And, as Snowden pointed out, the US foreign intelligence surveillance court approved every one of the nearly 1,500 communication intercept requests made by the NSA and FBI last year.

As it stands, the new product is on par with Google Hangouts and Gmail, which use HTTPS to secure transmissions between users and its servers, but is then available for Google's algorithms to use at its datacenters.

Allo does support end-to-end encryption, which should make it difficult for anyone but recipient and sender to view the contents of messages; however, Google was criticized by Snowden and other privacy advocates for setting it as off by default.

Allo relies on the encryption protocol used by Signal, which Snowden has vouched for as a private messaging app, but in Allo it is only active when users are in Incognito Mode.

"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," Google said in a statement to TechCrunch.

"We also provide the option to chat in Incognito mode, where messages are end-to-end encrypted and you can set a timer to automatically delete messages on your device, and the recipient's, at a set time."

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