Google Allo: Edward Snowden slams it over privacy issues

Google Allo app has serious privacy problems and people should avoid using it, says Edward Snowden.

By: Tech Desk | Updated: September 23, 2016 9:58 am
Google, Google Allo app, Google Allo Snowden, Edward Snowden Allo, Allo App, Allo privacy, Allo privacy problem, Allo encryption, Google Allo Edward Snowden, Snowden Google Allo Google Allo app: Snowden slams it over privacy concerns. (Source: AP)

Google Allo app has serious privacy problems and people should avoid using it, according to NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden. This is not the first time Snowden has slammed Google and Allo over privacy issues. When the app was first announced in May, Snowden had tweeted, “Google’s decision to disable end-to-end encryption was dangerous,” and that people should avoid the app.

After the official launch this week, Snowden tweeted, “Free for download today: Google Mail, Google Maps, and Google Surveillance. That’s #Allo. Don’t use Allo.” When people asked which app should they use for messaging, Snowden replied “use Tor, use Signal.” And someone also asked what Snowden thought about Telegram, another messaging app which has end-to-end encryption in the Secret chat mode.

Snowden said Telegram is less safe than WhatApp, and thus dangerous for non-experts.

With Google Allo, the privacy issue is a concern for users. It should be noted that at the time of I/O, Google has said all message requests send to Assistant would be stored ‘only transiently’ on their servers and would be eventually deleted. Now Google has gone back on this privacy promise, and says it will be storing all chats permanently in its servers. This means that in case of a legal request from the authorities Google will be able to hand over data to them.

But there’s an Incognito mode in Google’s Allo where chats are all end-to-end encrypted and these have an expiry on them. The messages are deleted after sometime and not stored on Google’s servers. In case of WhatsApp though, since it is end-to-end encryption across the app by default none of the messages are stored on the company’s servers.

Read more: Google Allo: The turning point of the decline in human interaction?

Google has said it needs to keep the conversations in order to ensure the machine-learning based Assistant improves over time. The more a user interacts with it, the better Google Assistant gets and learns more about the user, including the kind of responses they are likely to give.

Also read: Snowden asks people to avoid Google Allo over privacy concerns

Snowden’s tweets have also sparked a response from Telegram co-founder Pavel Durov who pointed out that most WhatsApp users back up their data on Google Drive/iCloud.

Snowden replied, “A citation would be helpful; looks opt-in to me. But in any case externalities are less relevant than app behavior itself.” This is not the first time Twitter has seen a Snowden vs Durov exchange. The NSA whistleblower has in the past questioned Telegram’s security over claims the app was storing plaintext of every message sent or received. Durov had denied this was true.

Check out the tweets from Snowden on Allo below, along with Durov’s tweets as well.

For most companies, messaging is the next space to capture, and Google which has lost the edge with Hangouts is hoping to claw back. In a world where WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger dominate with 1 billion users each, Allo has its task cut out. And the privacy questions which have always persisted with Google are unlikely to die down anytime soon around Allo either.