Compliance Management, Data Security, Encryption, Privacy

Google reverses Allo policy, raising ire of privacy groups

Google has revised earlier statements about privacy features available for its Allo messaging app that was unveiled in May. The search giant previously said it would offer end-to-end-encryption through app's Incognito Mode and would only temporarily store messages on the company's servers.

While the Incognito Mode still provides end-to-end encryption, the version of Allo that Google released on Wednesday will indefinitely store messages until they are manually deleted by the user.

The release of the app absent the feature has rankled privacy groups. Eva Galperin, global policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told that the primary concern with the policy is that the approach creates a situation in which Google mixes secure and insecure modes in the Allo product. “Mixing these two modes can have potentially disastrous effects” because it creates potential for human error.

Galperin noted that message logs can be subpoenaed. There are “plenty of other reasons that one may not want to log messages,” she added.

“Google engineers decided that improving auto responses was worth making all messages accessible to law enforcement,” wrote Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, in a tweet on Wednesday. Then in a follow-up tweet, he wrote that the policy “seems like a reasonable trade off if you grow up believing the police are there to protect you,” underscoring the importance of diversity in tech.

“Free for download today: Google Mail, Google Maps, and Google Surveillance. That's #Allo. Don't use Allo,” wrote Edward Snowden in a tweet.

This is not the first time privacy advocates have raised issues with Google's policies concerning Allo. In May, Google announced that Allo would use encryption, but would not include encryption by default. EFF senior staff attorney Nate Cardozo minced no words. “Hey @google, what the sh--?” he wrote in a tweet. “You support encryption? Turn it on by default, or don't bother playing.”

Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp prompted similar reaction from privacy groups when it revised its privacy policies. The messaging service announced that it would share user phone numbers with Facebook, allowing the social network to use WhatsApp information to display friend suggestions and targeted ads.

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