Famous NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is firmly against the new Google Allo chat app, arguing that it spies on absolutely everything people say.
Google Allo recently launched as a smart messaging app powered by artificial intelligence, potentially changing the way people communicate with each other. The app has plenty of neat features and tricks up its sleeve, but it also raises some serious privacy concerns.
While Google Allo may seem harmless at first glance, it actually monitors everything users say and stores the data for later analysis, purportedly using it to improve the app.
However, having all of those chats indefinitely stored on Google's servers may not be the best way to ensure user privacy. Google said at one point that it would only store user chats temporarily, retaining a certain degree of privacy for users, but it seems that's no longer the case. The company will keep all data indefinitely, which means that a copy of your conversations will be in Google's pocket for keepsake.
Snowden went on a Twitter spree on Wednesday, expressing his concerns regarding Google Allo and his stance against the intrusive application. In one tweet, the former NSA contractor links to a recent report by the Verge, signaling Google's change in stored message logs policy.
Google said it will use the data it collects to improve the app in certain areas, such as smart replies. Allo would basically read all of your conversations and attempt to figure out how you talk so it can suggest what you might want to say next.
So far, that's not much different from various predictive apps that study the conversations you give them access to in order to improve their predictions. SwiftKey does it, for instance, but only if the user expressly agrees to share data from whichever accounts they choose to link — Gmail, Facebook or the like.
Google, instead, could presumably be able to use the data it collects to target ads. The problem is that some personal chats may include sensitive data users might not want to share with Google.
At the same time, tracking and storing all conversations that occur on Allo would also mean that law enforcement could serve warrants to request access to that data.
"What is #Allo? A Google app that records every message you ever send and makes it available to police upon request," Snowden notes in one tweet.
It's worth pointing out, however, that Google does allow Allo users to go Incognito, which enables them to have private conversations protected by end-to-end encryption so that they're hidden, even from Google. The problem is that end-to-end encryption is not enabled by default and is only available in Incognito mode, which renders most of Google Allo's features useless.
In response to a user asking which messaging app to use, Snowden recommends Tor or Signal.
In seriousness, this is a complex question for which there is no one right answer. But relative to #Allo, Signal is safer for normal users.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 21, 2016