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Opinion 158 Shares 16 comments

The problem with Google Allo goes well beyond its awful privacy configuration

After its launch on September 21, Allo hasn’t stopped generating controversy. Although the functionality of the application is good, its terrible privacy configuration has made many turn away from it. Although that is important, it’s not the only problem with Allo, since it seems that Google doesn’t understand the importance of a real global launch.

If you value your privacy, then Allo isn’t for you. It’s a fact is the new messaging application from Google not only requires access to almost every part of your telephone, it’s also one of the least discreet and with the worst privacy configuration that there is right now.

In short, Allo doesn’t encrypt your end-to-end communications by default (like the vast majority of apps of this type). This type of encryption can be activated in incognito mode, but doing so would sacrifice the most characteristic option of the application: Google Assistant. Furthermore, during the I/O presentation, Google announced that it wouldn’t store the conversations, but this hasn’t ended up being true. As it turns out, Google will store all the information that you send in the app in order to improve the service.

As a consequence, Allo has created a public debate in which many have expressed their opinion in recommending users not install the application if they want to keep their privacy intact. Among them, Edward Snowden, a key figure in the movement to create awareness in digital privacy, has strongly recommended that the user community should not install Allo.

That in itself says a lot about the application and should be enough to keep the majority of users away from it. That being said, even if Allo did have excellent privacy settings, there is still something that Google hasn’t seemed to learn and that has made the launch of Allo an outright disaster.

Surprisingly, Google doesn’t seem to understand the importance of a launch that is truly global

Google Assistant is the key feature of Allo and makes it stand out from any other messaging application. Both in private and multiple conversations, Google is able to make suggestions as if it were just another user. The use of this function is still doubtful, but it is original and something that no other app can compete with. The main obvious problem is though: it’s only available in English.

ANDROIDPIT allo review 1
Google Assistant is the main function of Allo. / © AndroidPIT

Of course, Google will end up making this function available in all languages, but this alone is a problem. It doesn’t seem sensible to disregard a huge client base of non-English speaking Google users when the company is trying to dominate an international sector. Trying to get all users to join the application from the very outset is essential, meaning that if the most important feature of the application is only become available in certain countries months after its launch, the majority of users just won’t be interested.

LF
Loie Favre
I only use apps in my mother tongue.
What do you think?
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Google has an advantage thanks to its knowledge of machine learning. This is not the first time that Google has made this mistake. Tap, a main feature of Android 6.0 Marshmallow, was only available in English for the first few months. Some time later, it was made available in other languages.

Google is losing an enormous opportunity by abandoning the most important feature of its new application in the majority of countries and it is especially disappointing when you keep in mind that Google has a great advantage thanks to its knowledge of machine learning and its services such as Google Translate.

google translate hero 2
Google has a major advantage in its knowledge in machine learning. / © ANDROIDPIT

Apple, with iOS 10, brought out a feature which anticipates the right emojis depending on the words that you type (which, surprisingly is already activated in the Google keyboard for iOS but not for Android, and which other keyboards had already included). This new service works without any problem both in Spanish and English and has done so right from the moment of its launch, which was the same in all countries.

Allo, for many (including me) is not a recommendable app for several reasons, but even if it were, it probably wouldn’t have had the expected success, because its partial launch in the majority of countries generates disinterest.

Are you optimistic with regard to Allo? Do you think that Google has got it right with their latest app? Give us your opinion in the comments section.

Readers' favorite comments

  • Jimmy I. 2 months ago

    Hmm, so what you're saying is that if I activate incognito mode then I get the full privacy similar to the other equivalent apps, but I always have the option to enjoy the extra AI features that other apps can't provide if I'm willing to let Google have access to all my private content (which they probably already have access to if I use gmail and other Google services).

    And you're also saying that the language issue is with regards to these AI features that other apps can't do anyway. In other words if I use incognito mode to be like the other apps then it makes absolutely no difference what language I'm using (just like with the other apps).

    I don't see what the issue is - simply turn on incognito mode and you're done. Or turn it off and enjoy some pretty cool features that you can't get elsewhere. And if you don't speak English then you'll have to wait a little longer for the AI features but you can use it as you'd use any of the other apps. The choice is yours.

    It's only very, very recently that WhatsApp and others started encrypting messages, yet it didn't seem to prevent the majority of people from using them anyway. So now, suddenly, from one day to then next, because WhatsApp and others have started encrypting their messages, we have to completely avoid any that don't? Wow. Are you telling me that you refused to use any of the current messaging apps until just a few months ago when they started encrypting their messages? Or have you, like everyone else, been using WhatsApp and others for ages now despite their messages not being encrypted? And it's not that this one doesn't encrypt - it's that it doesn't encrypt by default that seems to be causing the outrage. So switch it on then! Again, I don't see what the fuss is all about.

    Perhaps the app should announce on installation that your messages are not encrypted unless you activate incognito mode, but I think you'll find that most people don't care. Those that do care will have found out themselves about incognito mode.

16 comments

Write new comment:
  • Being an active user of too many Google products and services, I have long ago fully sacrificed privacy and made myself completely exposed and surveillance-vulnerable for the (dubious) benefit of better experiences. I still expect (naively, apparently) Google to use all the info I voluntarily (!) provide, to improve my life.

    This is where the BIG disappointment comes! I don't care about privacy (no secrets: my wife approves my mistresses and that bank I robbed was bailed out by the government so everyone's happy). I don't care about rare languages, if I can get street directions or order a beer in English even in Bogota or Vladivostok. I don't even care that Allo is nowhere near Whatsapp in functionality or popularity (and why, exactly, should one switch? Ever heard of Metcalfe's Law, Google?)

    What leaves me bitterly disappointed (an understatement) is the Assistant, touted as the single most important feature of the otherwise unimpressive chat app. The Assistant has FAILED to assist me in anything, over 2 weeks of trying very hard to give it a chance! AI? Artificial only but NOT intelligent. At all. Just a plain generic Google search bringing frustratingly irrelevant results. Sometimes laughably self-incriminating results - like when asking how to switch weather from Fahrenheit to Celsius, it teaches me in great detail how... (rival) Facebook does it! :) )) Machine learning? My old shoe learns faster :( (Which is an idea - I should perhaps start asking my shoes for assistance). If there was an Award for Most Useless App Ever, Google Assistant would win it hands-down.

    Disclosure: I own Google stock and am a lifetime fan of the company. This rant is intended to wake them up and help them improve my life.

  • 303tk4 2 months ago Link to comment

    Whether messages are encrypted or not, and whether messages are collected or not, are different issues.
    Encryption is meant to prevent wire tapping or being read by hacking, right?
    Data collection is necessary evil because AI resides in Google's server, not in my phone so it needs to collect data to learn and find out relevant info.
    I for one, don't care latter as long as incognito mode is available when needed.

    Ah, but server can't read the messages when we're using end-to-end encryption. Therefore those two (AI and privacy) seem to be incompatible :-(

  • Zaw 2 months ago Link to comment

    I know Privacy is really important these days but I am just a normal guy and I don't have very important data inside my Smartphone and the main point here is 'Who Cares About Me'.Anyway,I love using Allo at the moment and I love chatting with Google Assistant sometime.Ya,it's a good experience..Love that..

  • regardless of all that.. the most relevant important questions I have is... have you heard of Allo? so far that's a big NO with regards to friends and family, well.. do you want to sign up... err.. NO
    so I don't think I'll be using Allo at the moment...

  • Quite frankly I find the author of this article a bit of a drama queen, and more important, not that informed/informing.

  • Lets have rock of Allo app

  • Ivan C. 2 months ago Link to comment

    Off Topic: That Allo logo / icon resembles the Alcatel's new mobile phone logo.

  • Remco 2 months ago Link to comment

    I'm a big fan of Allo and if privacy is a issue than you shouldn't use a smartphone they can get in your information anyhow

    Language isn't a issue for mee to use it in my native language would be great but i can wait

    I love all the features but having problems with the assistant when i give a command to make a call it goes to Google for a surge it happens with almost all commands

    To bad that Google doesn't make a better afford launching the app only a few of my contacts are using Allo and people wouldn't go easily from whatsapp to another app like Allo

  • I love the allo app. We will always have privacy issues.

  • I dont found the privacy issues to be a problem for me..or the language to be one also..I found out that I was exited about this app, ok, them I told everyone on my contact list about it. But no one was as exited as me. A few of my contacts did downloaded the app and we text for a few days..but next thing I knew I was back using my regular good old Google messages all and they were using what ever app they were always use before..so. There is to many good apps already that work good that what ever app comes new it just life a short hype life span and that's it. Thanks for reading me.

  • Un Listed 2 months ago Link to comment

    Google's nuts fall very close to the tree.

  • The headline is click bait isn't it? "well beyond" and the only 'flaw' beyond encryption is a delay in internationalization?!

  • Jimmy I. 2 months ago Link to comment

    Hmm, so what you're saying is that if I activate incognito mode then I get the full privacy similar to the other equivalent apps, but I always have the option to enjoy the extra AI features that other apps can't provide if I'm willing to let Google have access to all my private content (which they probably already have access to if I use gmail and other Google services).

    And you're also saying that the language issue is with regards to these AI features that other apps can't do anyway. In other words if I use incognito mode to be like the other apps then it makes absolutely no difference what language I'm using (just like with the other apps).

    I don't see what the issue is - simply turn on incognito mode and you're done. Or turn it off and enjoy some pretty cool features that you can't get elsewhere. And if you don't speak English then you'll have to wait a little longer for the AI features but you can use it as you'd use any of the other apps. The choice is yours.

    It's only very, very recently that WhatsApp and others started encrypting messages, yet it didn't seem to prevent the majority of people from using them anyway. So now, suddenly, from one day to then next, because WhatsApp and others have started encrypting their messages, we have to completely avoid any that don't? Wow. Are you telling me that you refused to use any of the current messaging apps until just a few months ago when they started encrypting their messages? Or have you, like everyone else, been using WhatsApp and others for ages now despite their messages not being encrypted? And it's not that this one doesn't encrypt - it's that it doesn't encrypt by default that seems to be causing the outrage. So switch it on then! Again, I don't see what the fuss is all about.

    Perhaps the app should announce on installation that your messages are not encrypted unless you activate incognito mode, but I think you'll find that most people don't care. Those that do care will have found out themselves about incognito mode.

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