After years of producing a variety of mobile messaging apps, Google is taking a new tack: embracing a new global standard for Rich Communication Services (RCS) messages. The service, dubbed Chat, is not a Google messaging app but will run on Android phones through partnerships with dozens of mobile carriers around the world.
The RCS-based Chat will enable a new range of features that aren’t currently available with SMS text messaging, but are familiar to Apple customers who use the built-in iMessage system. Those features include read receipts, video support, group conversations, and Internet-based — rather than SMS-based — sending.
Chat could become available to many Android users starting sometime this year. The decision on when will depend upon individual wireless carriers that have traditionally offered their own proprietary apps for SMS text messaging.
With Chat, Google is changing course on a mobile messaging journey that has included Android Messages, Hangouts, Allo, and Duo. The company is now hitting “pause” on Allo to focus on moving Android Messages from an SMS-based world to an RCS-based one.
A couple of expected features coming to Android Messages includes web-based desktop interface to carry Chats over to the desktop, Smart Reply as we’ve seen in Allo, Google Photos integration, Clearer organization of messages, better search features, and “more expressiveness”, which could mean we might see more stickers come to Android Messages.
And, much like iMessage, if you send messages to an iPhone or any handset with Chat not enabled, they will be sent as regular SMS messages. Unlike iMessages though, the platform will not be closed, and despite being interoperable, will allow carriers and OEMs to customise their Chat apps and services.
No End-to-End Encryption
For now, however, one thing Chat won’t offer that iMessage does is end-to-end encryption. Due to the fact that the standard is implemented at the Carrier level, it is not possible for it to be as secure as other IP-based messaging apps that offer end-to-end encryption. The mobile messaging space has long been chaotic, and adding requirements for secure messaging makes it even messier.
While Chat and RCS might not address encryption concerns at the moment, it could enable a variety of new capabilities that businesses find especially appealing: brand images, audio, video, and interactive services.
On Friday, Amnesty International’s Technology and Human Rights researcher Joe Westby released a statement slamming Google and the new Chat service.
“In the wake of the recent Facebook data scandal, Google’s decision is not only dangerous but also out of step with current attitudes to data privacy. It means Google will now be actively encouraging Android phone users to give up their privacy by switching to a service where their communications are effectively there for all to see.
“It is difficult to see why any Android user would choose to use the new Chat service. Google should immediately scrap it in its current form and instead give its customers a product that protects their privacy.”
Amnesty International considers end-to-end encryption a minimum requirement for technology companies to ensure that private information in messaging apps stays private.