Google's new chat app Allo is a privacy nightmare

Allo

Four months ago, Google announced two new communication apps: Duo, for video calling, and Allo, for traditional WhatsApp-style messaging. Duo arrived for Android and iOS a month ago, while Allo is available from today.

While Allo is a good looking app, it has some big privacy issues that users need to be aware of.

The first, which Edward Snowden warned about, is the lack of default end-to-end encryption which, in the former NSA contractor's own words, makes it both "dangerous" and "unsafe".

The other is Google will now store all non-incognito conversations on its servers permanently, or until the user actively deletes them. This might seem like a traditional Google approach, but actually the search giant originally said it would only hold conversations temporarily, so authorities wouldn’t be able to easily access them.

Google says it changed its original plan in order to improve Allo assistant’s smart reply feature which predicts how you should respond to messages, but the move will have users wondering whether it was in fact done to appease law enforcement agencies.

Inevitably, privacy campaigners are less than impressed with the change.

Daniel Nesbitt, research director at Big Brother Watch, says "It's important that citizens are given enough information about what will happen to their data for them make an informed choice about whether or not they want to use this service. This includes who may be able to access it and where the data will be stored".

Allo's assistant feature also requires certain permissions to work, which users may not be entirely comfortable granting.

Allo permissions

It's not all bad news on the privacy front though. Users can avoid having their conversations logged by using Allo’s Incognito mode which, unlike the default chat mode, is fully encrypted end-to-end.

Do you plan to use Allo, or are you concerned about Google’s privacy U-turn? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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