In yet another disturbing news for online privacy advocates, a media report has claimed that Google’s mobile messaging app Allo can reveal your search history to friends and those you message.
Allo lets users include Google Assistant in conversations. Google recently announced plans to make Assistant available on Android phones. According to a Re/code report late on Tuesday, Allo “has been found to be capable of “sharing users’ past Google searches with contacts, without being prompted to”.
Described as a technical glitch, the report claimed that this Allo’s behaviour could have big privacy implications. The discovery was made by Re/code’s Tess Townsend who was using Allo to chat to a friend.
“In the middle of our conversation, my friend directed Assistant to identify itself. Instead of offering a name or a pithy retort, it responded with a link from Harry Potter fan website Pottermore. The link led to an extract from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth book in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series,” he wrote.
“But the response was not merely a non sequitur. It was a result related to previous searches my friend said he had done a few days earlier, Townsend further wrote.
“It didn’t come from any of my search history, since I had not viewed any Harry Potter-related websites in the days before our conversation. We also did not mention Harry Potter in our text exchange until Assistant brought it up,” the report added.
In a response, Google said: “We were notified about the Assistant in group chats not working as intended. We’ve fixed the issue and appreciate the report.”
Allo has recently been criticised by privacy advocates because it does not use end-to-end encryption by default as WhatsApp does.
According to a report in The Independent, Google Assistant is supposed to request permission from a user before sharing personal information in an Allo chat, but the privacy feature doesn’t appear to always work.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden had issued a warning about Allo after its launch.
“What is #Allo?” he tweeted. “A Google app that records every message you ever send and makes it available to police upon request.”