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Why I won't be using Allo, Google's coolest new app

Allo is poised to be Android's default messaging app. It includes integration of Google Assistant, allowing you to search for restaurants, make bookings and look up images, all from within the app. But I won't be using it for one very simple reason.

google io keynote 2016 allo 2
A limited degree of security, at least. / © ANDROIDPIT

End to end

There are several reasons why I don't like Allo, but there is only one reason why I will not be using it. It's to do with encryption. The default mode of the app doesn't use end-to-end encryption (e2e) like that seen in WhatsApp and Telegram.

E2e is an extremely secure form of encryption that essentially means that only the sender and the receiver can view the message contents. At every point in between, there is only a garbled mess of information, impossible to make sense of without an automatically generated key, which is complex enough to be nigh-on impossible to crack.

whatsapp end to end encryption
WhatsApp recently made e2e encryption ubiquitous across all its platforms. / © Open Whispher Systems

Opt-in privacy

Google has suggested you will be able to get e2e encryption on your messages through an incognito mode similar to that found in Chrome, but this is opt-in. By default, the app does not use e2e encryption.

The reason for this is that the app's killer feature is integration of Google's advanced AI, Google Assistant. This machine learning network is dispersed across innumerable devices and can't function without access to the neural network. For the Google AI to function inside the chat, Google needs to be able to read your messages, see your photos, the works, and tie this in with the neural network, which means sharing your data with Google.

While I understand this reasoning, for me, the upsides (e.g. having automatically generated replies to pictures of pasta) are not enough to sacrifice an enormous chunk of my privacy, and e2e encryption should, at very least, be an option you opt out of, as I will get to later.

google io keynote 2016 allo 9
Yes, Allo can invent responses to pictures of food, but is it worth it? / © Google

It is well known, and important to remember, that Google is always building profiles of its users to target its advertising more effectively. Not only that, but 98 percent of PRISM production was based on data obtained from Yahoo, Google and Microsoft. This is data on individuals that the US government gathered on a vast scale, through means that many consider invasive. While we're back in the dark regarding the activities of the NSA and other intelligence agencies, there has been no indication that the nature of their work has changed a great deal with respect to individuals' privacy.

Actions are more important than words

Given Google's public support for Apple in the San Bernardino case, where Apple refused to grant the FBI access to an encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the shooters, its decision to make secure encryption an opt-in affair seems contrary to its stated principles.

With its products becoming increasingly more invasive (consider also Google Home, which sits in your living room listening to everything that happens), a heavy insistence on secure and private data transfer seems like something Google should be pushing to the foreground, not relegating to the background.

google home 2
Google Home will require the same level of access for its machine learning AI to operate. / © Google

Another way

Google engineer Thai Duong made a blog post regarding the Allo encryption situation, positing the idea that the situation could be reversed, with e2e encryption being an opt-out option, letting you choose when you want to allow the AI access to your chats.

The paragraphs where he made this suggestion have since been deleted, "because it's not cool to publicly discuss or to speculate the intent or future plans for the features of my employer's products", but unless this is the direction Google takes, Allo will remain unused on my phone.

What do you think of Google's approach to encryption on Allo? Is it enough to put you off using the app? Let me know in the comments.

Readers' favorite comments

  • Edward Amarille 5 months ago

    Privacy....... Pointless issue unless you actually are trying to hide something. Do you use a secure line when you make phone calls? Are you always incognito when on your browser? Or better yet, do you use the Facebook app? Cuz what's the use of privacy in just one aspect of your mobile life if you aren't practicing the same concepts throughout all of it?

  • Parvind Chahal 5 months ago

    this is nt a big reason to dont use it....u should nt post watever comes in ur mind....this site is for public interest......i respect u but rise ur level

37 comments

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  • steve 2 months ago Link to comment

    allo allo

  • I actually don't like the name of the app and not interested in invented responses because it seems fake... Just come out with one unified messaging platform and that's it...

  • The thing that makes me laugh is that you were using WhatsApp even before the e2e encryption, and now you are disregarding a fairly new app based on the fact that the encryption is not on by default?
    What if it's not on by default because it hasn't been fully debugged yet? I mean allo is a new app, only tested in a controlled system, so of course the public version will most likely be buggy as hell, so keep encryption opt-in for now so they can get customer reactions to the base app before having to tackle the issues with encryption turned on.

  • BruinGuy 5 months ago Link to comment

    I won't use Allo if it doesn't work Google Voice. Other than that, I'm in.

  • KYonkopa 5 months ago Link to comment

    I think we should all be concerned about our privacy, if you are not that's fine. People are free to use whatever they want to so I don't get why anyone should be bitchy about this article and in fact he just opened my eyes to something tho i love this app so much but I really Google should do something about it encryption

    • Privacy....... Pointless issue unless you actually are trying to hide something. Do you use a secure line when you make phone calls? Are you always incognito when on your browser? Or better yet, do you use the Facebook app? Cuz what's the use of privacy in just one aspect of your mobile life if you aren't practicing the same concepts throughout all of it?

      • Noldornir 4 months ago Link to comment

        Good point,

        I see more and more ppl concerned 'bout "privacy" and whining on a missing encryption (by default, this means you CAN turn it on if you prefer so) but... the same ppl are sharing their whole life on facebook (often without taking the time to set up the privacy settings 'cause it's a boring thing to do).

        Concerned 'bout privacy? Then delete all your social accounts or, at the very least don't accept friends if u don't even know them just to raise the friends counter.

        The privacy public enemy #1 is, usually, yourself... not the encryption.

      • Pointless? In America, we have this thing called a Constitution and we in general like to choose what information we give. If a cop comes to your home do you just let him in and rummage through your things? I hate these types of uninformed comments.

      • Not even close to the same thing. On Facebook, "I" choose what information to give out. That is a specious argument at best!

    • Curious... You love the App yet it is not available for use?

  • pointless article .. Explain more about whatsapp before a couple of months when there was no end to end encryption? Werent u using it? Just dont talk non-sense. Its very irritating to see a FAKE and USELESS article coming as a first result in Google.

    The sad thing is, idiots will see articles like this and argue for years.

    Lost respect for this Site. Dont these sites have moderator?

    • If people see articles like this and argue for years, it has done it's job, Harish. I want to raise awareness of personal privacy in an increasingly invasive age, and whether you agree or not with what I have to say, the discussion is an important one.

      When it comes to WhatsApp, what's important is that it DOES now have e2e encryption. It sets a precedent. Users have a choice now between secure messaging platforms and unsecured platforms. If Google, contrary to what it says in the press, does not place users' privacy above all else, then they should be punished for that.

    • steve 2 months ago Link to comment

      Nor they won't.

    • So?

  • You know, as it is, I think it's horrifying how much the government is now able to know about or find out about people already, and I don't enjoy the fact that Google and Facebook, for example, are akin to godlike omniscience when it comes to knowing all your personal information. Of course I can't totally prevent it if I want to use the majority of things on my phone and use facebook, which I hate BTW. But I don't use an assistant, I don't store passwords or bank account information in the phone, and I have no use for the app this article is about either. And I actually DO have things to hide IMO, and I think that anyone who claims they don't are full of it. Everyone has secrets, skeletons in the closet, and things they would like to keep private. If you don't, then you're not human. Or extremely boring, at the very least.

  • It reminds me of the days of "clip" the office assistant or the red ball et al. Damn those things were irritating. Can't think of anyone that used it. Maybe the first day or two and then they disabled it. My guess most will do the same so I agree why compromise privacy for a assistant add-on that most likely will be disabled after a while?

  • Pcaruba 5 months ago Link to comment

    I Don't have anything to hide, and I am most certain Google doesn't give a sh.. about what you write.
    To the author: do you use email? Probably sending and receiving also without encryption. BTW assistants usually know most of your secrets and therefore they can be more helpful. So Google gives you an option to use encryption but you won't have access to the assistant. Do what you want, don't use it.. I am tired of people complaining about the features or qualities of FREE stuff is handed over to them. Grow up

    • tekf33k3n 5 months ago Link to comment

      It's precisely this level of apathy that eroded or privacy and gives government and corporations all the confidence they need in invading it further. I have nothing to hide either. However, no one has my permission to just take more of my privacy based on the fact that I have nothing to hide. Perhaps it's you who needs to grow up, or maybe you prefer Soviet/Chinese style invasion into your life. I, for one, don't. Your ability to pass anonymous judgement on the author is predicated on your privacy. Think about that before making such foolish comments.

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