Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
- A new feature called "Chat" will soon be deployed across every Android phone, as it will be automatically turned on within the default "Messages" app.
- Chat is not a Google service, although Google did help make it.
- Chat is based on a new universal standard called "RCS," or "Rich Communication Services," which is designed to supplant SMS. It supports read receipts, full-resolution photos and video, and group texts, among other features.
- Chat did not get an upgrade from SMS in the encryption department. Chat is not end-to-end encrypted, which means it is not as secure as Apple's iMessage, or WhatsApp.
- Critics are calling out Google for not having end-to-end encryption in the default Android app in 2018.
A new feature called "Chat" is coming soon to all Android phones, but from a security standpoint, it's hardly an upgrade from SMS — and it's nowhere as secure as Apple's iMessage or WhatsApp.
Google has been working with major carriers and phone makers on a new text-messaging standard that will replace SMS on Android devices. And so, "Chat," which is the consumer-facing name for "RCS, or "Rich Communication Services," will be the new name of the "Messages" app in the near future. Almost every major carrier and Android phone maker has already signed on.
Unfortunately, the new Chat feature, like SMS before it, will not be encrypted. From The Verge (emphasis ours):
"In a sign of its strategic importance to Google, the company has spearheaded development on the new standard, so that every carrier’s Chat services will be interoperable. But, like SMS, Chat won’t be end-to-end encrypted, and it will follow the same legal intercept standards. In other words: it won’t be as secure as iMessage or Signal."
On Friday, just hours after the initial announcement, Amnesty International's Technology and Human Rights researcher Joe Westby released a statement slamming Google and the new Chat service:
"In the wake of the recent Facebook data scandal, Google’s decision is not only dangerous but also out of step with current attitudes to data privacy. It means Google will now be actively encouraging Android phone users to give up their privacy by switching to a service where their communications are effectively there for all to see.
"It is difficult to see why any Android user would choose to use the new Chat service. Google should immediately scrap it in its current form and instead give its customers a product that protects their privacy."
We reached out to Google for comment on why the new Chat feature lacks end-to-end encryption. We haven't heard back.
Westby also called the decision to launch a messaging service without end-to-end encryption "baffling," and said the move shows "utter contempt for the privacy of Android users" as it allows easy access for governments and criminals to snoop on the communications of Android users.
Others on Twitter balked at the decision to release the new Chat service without end-to-end encryption.
Google's RCS will be dead-on-arrival. Designing a new chat platform in 2018 without end-to-end #encryption is a non-starter. Users demand the strength of @signalapp and the simplicity/features of @telegram - not 'innovation from carriers' that will tap and monetize. Tweet Embed:
RCS Chat from @Google - sounds great, but I won't use it without end to end encryption. Sticking with @signalapp & @WhatsApp . https://t.co/fTXoL5tmmt via @backlon Tweet Embed:
Google is once AGAIN is going to try and solve its Android messaging mess with Chat….but it sounds like another misstep. No end-to-end encryption in 2018? Crazy https://t.co/GswmViOGmz Tweet Embed:
@Google worrying about alienating carriers by not building an iMessage competitor will hurt Android. The unveiling of Chat requires too much carrier buy-in to be interoperable. It's lack of end-to-end encryption is also a terrible choice.