Google Engineer Wants Encryption by Default in Allo

Google IO Keynote Allo AH 2

It’s been a busy week for the world of Android and all things Google, and for those particularly interested in the Android side of things, Google didn’t disappoint. For those looking for a little of everything however, Google also announced a pair of new messaging apps, Allo and Duo. The new apps will work across Android and iOS and provide different features and different functionality. For instance, Duo is a super-focused one-to-one video calling app while Allo is a little more complex. For all intents and purposes a messaging application, Allo also features the Google Assistant, which will allow users to play games with the AI, get answers to tricky questions and generally boss it around. Allo also features an Incognito Mode, similar to the one that Chrome uses, but for a messaging app this mostly means that it features end-to-end encryption in this mode.

While it’s great to see a new app from Google have such a feature built-in, many will be wondering why end-to-end encryption is not enabled by default, especially when Google expects users to talk to one another using Allo. WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption by default, and that’s what one Google Engineer is hoping for with Allo. Thai Duong, an Engineer who co-leads Google’s Security team wrote a blog post following the announcement of Allo. At the time of writing, this blog post had been edited, with key paragraphs removed and changed, but as TechCrunch is reporting Duong’s original post stated that “I wish it’s the default (because it’s my feature haha :), but even if it is not default all is not lost. I can’t promise anything now, but I’m pushing for a setting where users can opt out of cleartext messaging. Basically with one touch you can tell Allo that you want to “Always chat in incognito mode going forward”.


It’s understandable that Duong feels this way, and it’s interesting to see that his original post has been edited quite so much, is this because of pressure from higher up at Google? We might not ever know for sure, but one thing is certain, the lack of default encryption in Allo is something that will divide those in the industry as well as users for some time. Right now, Google has a mode in Allo for those that want to go off the radar, and this is clearly marked and explained, which should appease most users. Mixing in the Google Assistant is perhaps why Allo doesn’t feature encryption by default, as Google will most likely want to use these conversations to learn and better improve the AI over time, but the concerns of what effect this has on your human-to-human conversations is unclear. Regardless, Allo hasn’t even officially launched yet, and it will no doubt undergo a few changes here and there, so the Allo we see launch later this Summer may very well include such a setting, we’ll have to wait and see.