Say Allo and goodbye to your privacy

Whatever you do today – or the rest of your life – do not download Google’s Allo messaging app.

Meryl D'Souza September 27, 2016

Of the many big announcements at its I/O conference in May this year, Google announced its own messaging app to mix and hopefully conquer the plethora of messaging apps available to us today. 

Google’s Allo is good, but not spectacular. You have stickers you can use like Facebook Messenger and Telegram, You can draw on pictures like Snapchat and of course, you can text away like you’ve always done on apps like Whatsapp and Google’s own Hangouts and Messenger. To sum up: Meh. 

It’s Allo’s deep integration with Google’s artificial intelligence that makes it stand out from the haystack. First, there’s the suggested replies feature. When you receive a message, Allo will have suggested replies based on the message received. So if a friend on Allo asks you, “Are you coming?” the suggested response would be, “On my way”.

It goes deeper too. The AI can answer questions like you would type into Google and even work like Google Now and mine through your emails to give you information on your upcoming events and flights. It’s essentially Siri or Cortana for Google.

Futuristic? Maybe. Creepy? Definitely.

Think about what you’ve just read for a minute. Google’s AI is suggesting replies. That means it’s reading every single one of your conversations. There’s a workaround of course: Incognito Mode – which enables end-to-end encryption so that no one but the recipient and sender are able to read the message. In the Incognito environment, Google AI becomes redundant too, but the fact that this isn't done by default is troubling.

Allo from the other side

Here’s where everything gets murky: While first talking about the app at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California in May, Google told those gathered there that they would only store messages fleetingly and not indefinitely. A bit of digging into the settings after the Allo launch last week proved that those were nothing but empty promises.

But wait, it gets creepier. According to The Verge: “By default, Allo messages will now be accessible to lawful requests, similar to message data in Gmail and Hangouts and location data collected by Android. In the past, Google legal officers have stated that subpoenas are not sufficient to obtain that information, stating "we believe a warrant is required by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution" for access to private information in a Google account.”

Here’s what that translates to: When you download Google Allo, you’re basically inviting agencies like the NSA to check out where you are, what you’re up to and read every text you send to anyone in the world. 

But hey, don’t take our word for it. Edward Snowden – the man who proved that the United States government is playing Big Brother with all of us – concurs: