Imagine your boss sees every message or photo you send! And your own government – or a foreign one – knows about your every move. Encryption is more important than ever – it is under threat. Forbes explains why it’s time to quit chatting with Android Messages.
Ironically, if Facebook got nuts for the forced change in conditions for 2 billion WhatsApp users, then Google seems to be out of water again. But now, given the recent revelations, hundreds of millions of Android users will still have to decide who to trust their data to.
Android Messages tries to patch major security gaps in its architecture. But following the launch of beta updates last year, Google confirmed that there are still no real dates and that the aforementioned improvements are still severely limited. Until that changes, you better find an alternative.
In fact, this applies to many, many people: Android Messages is becoming the default program for many Samsung users, replacing its own Messages app and expanding Google’s user base as RCS rolls out.
So here’s an important reminder that not all instant messengers are created equal. Use the one that has end-to-end encryption by default – that is, no SMS, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or Android Messages.
Android Messages is essentially the same SMS client, updated to RCS (the next version of SMS, which supports chat and multimedia features that have become commonplace in other messengers).
While RCS was conceived as updating SMS on the same mobile networks as the past ecosystem, Google is essentially playing catch-up with Apple’s iMessage.
SMS has no protection at all. And, characteristically, RCS is criticized for the same thing – a leaky architecture, where there are too many points of failure and a high risk of hacking accounts, thanks to which hackers can intercept messages and manipulate communications.
Google, as a flagship, accelerated the implementation of the RCS ecosystem, and at the same time fixed some security problems. But RCS – whether from Google or someone else – is completely devoid of end-to-end encryption, let alone by default. Therefore, from a security point of view, it is completely unacceptable.
“The lessons of the past five years are clear and clear that technology companies and governments must prioritize the security of private communications,” WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart said last month. He believes full encryption is “necessary,” but cautioned that “there is serious pressure to take it out,” so “it should not be taken for granted.”
If you’re wondering how critical end-to-end encryption is, just watch how WhatsApp defends itself against a wave of criticism. Don’t worry: they make sure that your correspondence is protected from Facebook, WhatsApp itself or anyone else, because it is encrypted at all stages. Facebook has admitted in the past that it tracks Messenger content.
WhatsApp warned users that “if the app doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption by default, it means they can read your messages.” So it’s nonsense to opt out of WhatsApp for sharing data with Facebook and choose Android Messages from a security standpoint.
“End-to-end encryption is the main method of sending messages around the world today,” Cathcart said. – Is it necessary for people to have the opportunity to communicate face to face, even at a distance? I believe that the answer to this question should be yes. End-to-end encryption keeps technology companies out of sensitive information. Will we be able to talk in private, or will they always eavesdrop on us?”
The announcement came at an inconvenient moment for Facebook: the company admitted that its plans to fully encrypt its own Messenger platform are delayed – and no breakthroughs are expected until next year.
For its part, Google launched a beta version of end-to-end encryption for Android Messages last year. But its capabilities are severely limited. The beta only supports one-to-one messaging – no groups. Google said it will explore options for the groups “later,” but there have been no dates yet for when anything beyond beta will appear.
“We understand that your conversations are confidential and we are responsible for keeping your personal information secure,” Google said in its beta announcement. “End-to-end encryption ensures that no one – neither Google nor third parties – can read the content of your messages when they are sent from your phone to the other person’s phone.”
So why seek from good to good?
On Android, there is no excuse to use other, less secure options. Unlike iOS, Android users can choose an alternative default messenger instead of the default one from the operating system. Instead of Android Messages, you can install Signal, and it will send both SMS and its own traffic – much like iMessage.
This means that if your interlocutor has Signal installed – and there are more and more of them – you automatically select a secure message. Forget Android Messages, this is the closest thing to Apple’s iMessage. Smartly divorced SMS and secure messages in one application, encryption in one-on-one messages and in a group, plus a full-fledged chat.
Cathcart is right: encryption is more important than ever, precisely because it is under threat. And while many users do not prioritize the security of their messages – after all, there are 1.3 billion Facebook Messenger users – I hope that those who read this article understand the importance of security and privacy of personal information.
And remember, it’s not the content itself that matters, but the metadata or data about your data. Who, when, to whom and how often sends messages – it’s a gold mine. Even if we temporarily put encryption aside, the further we move our data away from standard Facebook and Google tools, the more we slow down, albeit for a short time, their massive collection. This is your personal information – so please take it seriously.
“Imagine your own government – or a foreign one – sees your every action,” says WhatsApp’s Cathcart, “or if your boss sees every message or photo you send. This is the greatest risk of all.”
Indeed, just imagine. But this warning has its own irony – and not a small one. This is not to mention that Cathcart’s attack on government is much more appropriate for Facebook, the company he works for. But to Google too – and not in the least.
As always, you know enough to make an informed and informed decision. And, as always, if millions of users do not choose apps that truly prioritize privacy and security, what signal will we send to tech giants to move forward?