Google silently Updates Its Android Messages platform this week is trying to bridge a critical security gap for hundreds of millions of users. But, be careful, it’s not all it seems. As the Messenger battle intensifies, Google has taken a half-baked product to market. You shouldn’t be using this as your go-to—it’s time to make the switch.
We are of course talking end-to-end encryption. The major difference that separates the good messengers from the rest. That’s why you should use Signal, iMessage and WhatsApp while avoiding Telegram, Facebook Messenger and especially SMS.
when first google leak Its plan to properly encrypt Android messages, was announced as a major step forward. between Google Capture In the global RCS rollout, Google finally found the answer to Apple’s sticky iMessage, saving the transition to SMS 2.0 from the trivial efforts of countless carriers.
But Google’s point is that Android Messages doesn’t really meet the needs of the market, it really has no place. Yes, Android needs a stock SMS client, and the fact that RCS brings updated chat and media features is useful. But Android users are well served by cross-platform alternatives, especially WhatsApp, which is much more skewed to its Android user-base than iOS.
It seems like updating Android Messages is too little, too late.
Why so little? When using WhatsApp or Signal, any message you send, whether to an individual or a group, is encrypted end-to-end. This means that only you and the people you message can access the content. Platforms also cannot break the lock. With iMessage, the same is true for other Apple users, although it will fall back 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 has expanded its end-to-end encryption from beta to production, has a raft of caveats. It only encrypts by default end-to-end when both sender and recipient have chat features enabled, and more critically, it only works for 1:1 messaging, it does not protect group chats at this time does. Google explained that no timetable can be shared to address this serious issue.
Google has opted for Signal’s protocol for its end-to-end encryption – the same as used by WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger’s Incognito Chat and Signal. There’s nothing wrong with security when it’s in place, it doesn’t have enough time and it doesn’t add anything Android users don’t already have to other options.
And why so long? This has been the year where end-to-end messaging encryption has really been in the limelight. Yes, we’ve seen lawmakers around the world complaining There has been protests by Facebook, Apple and others, regarding their lack of access to user content. But this year, the ongoing privacy battle between Facebook and Apple put this level of security in the spotlight like never before.
WhatsApp found itself caught in the middle, and the world’s leading messenger brushed off any and all criticism by hammering home the end-to-end encryption point. As if to help make the point, the two messengers most likely to benefit from WhatsApp’s woes were Signal, which is by default end-to-end encrypted, and Telegram, which is not.
WhatsApp happily taunted Telegram’s issues publicly, rightly pointing out that what it claims about security and privacy is not backed by its technical shortcomings. WhatsApp was quiet on the Signal front, given that its smaller, fast-growing rival is the best secure messenger on the market today.
And, while Signal is cross-platform, it works better on Android than on the iPhone, as you can set it as the default system messenger, meaning it supports SMS as well as its own secure messaging. Will handle it too. Yes, you’ll miss the rich chat format with contacts who don’t use Signal, but encourage them to install the app, and all your group Signal messages will be safe. The Android Messages approach to securing certain messages, for some people for a while, doesn’t really cut it as an option.
Of course, it’s not even Signal or WhatsApp that Google has with this update, it’s Apple and its much-lauded iMessage platform. iMessage and Android Messages are hard to compare—one is a unified, highly secure architecture, while the other is a security layer added to Spider’s web messaging ecosystem.
Uniquely among secure messengers, iMessage offers multi-device, fully synced access, a rolling cloud back-up, and ever-expanding integration into the phone’s OS. While there’s no Android-like option on iOS to switch the default Messenger, iMessage is one of Apple’s sticky defenses against users switching to Android.
iMessage does all of the above without compromising end-to-end encryption, as long as you disable normal iCloud backup on your phone. Otherwise, Apple stores and can access a copy of your encryption key, somewhat counter-intuitively. But iMessage isn’t cross-platform, and that rules it out as your messaging go-to unless you’re on iOS and never communicate with someone who isn’t.
It’s great that Google has finally taken this step. Merely resolving the issue is not enough. As WhatsApp boss Will Cathcart puts it, “End-to-end encryption leaves tech companies out of sensitive information especially. Will we be able to have private conversations, or will someone always be listening?” But it should be the default for all messages, both for individuals and groups, to pick and choose not to.
And so, what should you do? My current advice on messaging, whether Android or iOS, is to use WhatsApp on a day-to-day basis, as almost everyone you want to message will have the app and Facebook’s privacy concerns were over. But you should also use the signal, which makes a profit as it continues to expand. And if you’re on Android, you should use Signal as your default system messenger. If you do this, messages you send to anyone with the app installed will automatically be sent to Signal.
Meanwhile, to compete, Google will need to evolve Android Messages to catch up with the alternatives. That means group encryption, that means full-scale multi-device access, as Signal and iMessage offer today and as WhatsApp is about to offer. And then it comes down to trust. The message isn’t just about the content, it’s about the metadata. And it doesn’t make sense to add more data to the Google mix.
And so, ultimately, the latest Android Messages update may seem like a progress, but in reality, it solves a problem that Android users don’t have.