Why should you stop texting from your Android messaging app
Google quietly update its Android Messages platform this week, trying to close a critical security hole for hundreds of millions of users. But beware, that’s not all it seems. Google brought a half-finished product to market, just as the messenger battle escalated. You shouldn’t use it as a benchmark, it’s time for a change.
We are of course talking about end-to-end encryption. The major differentiation that distinguishes good messengers from others. That is why you should use Signal, iMessage and WhatsApp, while avoiding Telegram, Facebook Messenger and especially SMS.
When Google for the first time escape its plans to properly encrypt Android messages, this was billed as a big step forward. Among the Google resume From the global rollout of RCS, saving the transition to SMS 2.0 from the uneven efforts of countless operators, Google has finally seen a response to Apple’s sticky iMessage.
But Google’s problem is that Android Messages doesn’t really meet a market need, it doesn’t really belong. Yes, Android needs an SMS client in stock, and the fact that RCS brings up-to-date chat and media features is helpful. But Android users are well served by cross-platform alternatives, especially WhatsApp, which is much more skewed to its Android user base than those on iOS.
The update of Android messages is, it seems, too small, too late.
Why too little? When using WhatsApp or Signal, every message you send, whether to an individual or a group, is end-to-end encrypted. This means that only you and those to whom you send messages can access the content. Even platforms cannot break the lock. With iMessage, this is also true for other Apple users, although it reverts to SMS when those messages are not on Apple’s ecosystem. The same is true if you select Signal as the default Android messaging option, essentially mimicking the iMessage experience.
Android Messages, which just extended its end-to-end encryption from beta to production, has a series of caveats. It only encrypts end-to-end by default when the sender and recipient have enabled chat features, and more importantly, it only works for 1: 1 messaging, it does not protect group chats for the. moment. Google said there is no timeline they can share on when this serious issue will be resolved.
Google has gone with Signal’s protocol for its end-to-end encryption, as used by WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger‘s secret chats, and Signal, of course. There’s nothing wrong with security when it’s in place, it just isn’t in place often enough, and it doesn’t add anything that Android users already have with other alternatives.
And why too late? This is the year end-to-end email encryption really grabbed the headlines. Yes, we have seen lawmakers from all over the world to complain on their lack of access to user content, repelled by Facebook, Apple and others. But this year, the ongoing privacy battle between Facebook and Apple has put that level of security in the spotlight like never before.
WhatsApp got caught in the middle, and the world’s leading messenger pushed back all criticism by hammering the point of end-to-end encryption. As if to help take stock, the two messengers who profited the most from WhatsApp’s woes were Signal, which is end-to-end encrypted by default, and Telegram, which is not.
WhatsApp has gladly taunted Telegram’s troubles in public, rightly pointing out that the offhand claims it makes about security and privacy are not supported by its technical shortcomings. WhatsApp was quieter on the Signal front, given that its smaller but rapidly growing rival is the best secure messenger on the market today.
And, while Signal is cross-platform, it performs better on Android than it does on iPhone, as you can set it as your default system messaging, which means it will handle SMS as well as its own secure messaging. Yes, you will miss the rich chat format with contacts not using Signal, but encourage them to install the app, and all of your Group Signal messages will be safe. The Android Messages approach to securing certain messages for certain people from time to time, doesn’t really cut it off as an alternative.
Of course, it’s not Signal or even WhatsApp that Google is targeting with this update, it’s Apple and its much-loved iMessage platform. It’s hard to compare iMessage and Android Messages: one is a highly secure integrated architecture, while the other is a layer of security added to a spider’s webmail ecosystem.
Unique among secure messaging, iMessage offers fully synchronized multi-device access, continuous cloud backup, and ever-expanding integration into the phone’s operating system. There is no Android-style option on iOS to turn off messenger by default, iMessage is one of Apple’s persistent defenses against users switching to Android.
iMessage does all of the above without compromising end-to-end encryption, as long as you turn off iCloud General Backup on your phone. Otherwise, Apple stores and can access a copy of your encryption key, in a somewhat counterintuitive fashion. But iMessage isn’t cross-platform, and that rules it out as the preferred messenger unless you’re on iOS and strive to never communicate with someone who isn’t.
It’s good that Google has finally taken this step. This is simply not enough to solve the problem. As WhatsApp boss Will Cathcart puts it, âEnd-to-end encryption prevents technology companies from accessing particularly sensitive information. Will we be able to have a private conversation, or will someone always be listening? But this should be the default for ALL messages, both for individuals AND groups, and not for a choice.
So what should we do? My current advice on messaging, whether Android or iOS, is to use WhatsApp on a daily basis, as almost everyone you want to message will have the app and privacy issues. of Facebook have been exaggerated. But you should also use Signal, to benefit from it as it expands. And if you’re on Android, you should use Signal as your default system messaging. If you do this, any messages you send to anyone who has the app installed will automatically be sent through Signal.
Meanwhile, to compete, Google will need to evolve Android Messages to catch up with the alternatives. It means group encryption, it means large-scale multi-device access, as Signal and iMessage provide today and as WhatsApp is about to introduce. And then it’s about trusting. Messaging is not just about content, but also metadata. And adding more data to the Google mix just doesn’t make sense.
And so, in the end, the latest Android Messages update might seem like progress, but in reality, it fixes an issue that Android users just don’t have.