Privacy versus convenience. It’s a trade off that we all make, especially when it comes to technology. Allo, the new messaging app from Google, was originally announced to incorporate temporary messaging as a key feature. That means that any messages you send would only be stored temporarily on the Google servers before being deleted. Now that the app has been released though, Google have confirmed that all message data will be stored permanently, at least by default. The news gets worse too from a privacy perspective, because end-to-end message encryption is also turned off by default.
According to Google, the reason for the change to the default settings is due to the Google Assistant features that are baked into the app. You can have a direct textual conversation with the assistant, asking it for information, general help or even questions about itself. In order for the assistant to converse most effectively though, it is said to need access to data from other conversations.
There is a solution for anyone wanting more privacy, and that is to use the Incognito mode incorporated into the app. To get to incognito mode, tap the icon to start a new chat, then select ‘Start incognito chat’. You then have a reduced selection of your contacts to choose from, which seems to be restricted to those that are also using Allo. Once you’ve started the conversation you have the option to set a timer for the conversation, after which the conversation is deleted. So the timer is set for each conversation, and has to be the same for both the sender and recipient. The default timer is one hour. Incognito mode also provides end-to-end encryption for everything except non-standard emojis which have to be added to a message from a Google server. There is no way to set Incognito mode as a default for every conversation though, it has to be selected each time.
The Google Assistant integration is the standout feature at the moment for Allo and the app is sure to gain interest from that perspective. For Google to maximise the effectiveness of the assistant features though, it chose to reduce the default security settings. The argument is the same as with Google Now, that giving Google access to your data helps Google to provide a more feature-rich and tailored service in return. A compromise, but at least we have the choice.