Why You Should Stop Sending Texts From Your Android Messages App | #ios | #apple | #iossecurity


Google has quietly updated its Android Messages platform this week, trying to plug a critical security gap for hundreds of millions of users. But, be warned, this isn’t all it seems. Google has rushed a half-completed product to market, just as the messenger battle has intensified. You should not be using this as your go-to—it’s time to switch.

We’re talking end-to-end encryption, of course. The major differentiation that sets good messengers apart from the rest. It’s why you should use Signal, iMessage and WhatsApp, while avoiding Telegram, Facebook Messenger and especially SMS.

When Google first leaked its plans to properly encrypt Android Messages, it was heralded as a major step forward. In among Google’s takeover of the global RCS rollout, rescuing the transition to SMS 2.0 from the patchy efforts of countless carriers, Google finally saw an answer to Apple’s sticky iMessage.

But Google’s issue is that Android Messages doesn’t really serve a market-need, it doesn’t really have a 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, particularly WhatsApp, which is much more skewed to its Android user-base than those on iOS.

Updating Android Messages is, it seems, just too little, too late.

Why too little? When using WhatsApp or Signal, every message you send, whether to an individual or to a group, is end-to-end encrypted. That means that only you and those you message can access the content. Not even the platforms can break the lock. With iMessage, that is also true for other Apple users, albeit it will revert 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 replicating the iMessage experience.

Android Messages, which has just expanded its end-to-end encryption from beta to production, has a raft of caveats. It only default end-to-end encrypts when both sender and recipient have chat features enabled, and much more critically, it only works for 1:1 messaging, it does not protect group chats at this time. Google told there’s no timetable they can share on when this serious issue will be addressed.

Google has opted for 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 the security when it’s in place, it just isn’t in place enough of the time and it doesn’t add anything Android users don’t already have from other alternatives.

And why too late? This has been the year where end-to-end messaging encryption has really hit the headlines. Yes, we’ve seen lawmakers the world over complaining about their lack of access to user content, batted away by Facebook, Apple and others. But this year, the running privacy battle between Facebook and Apple put this level of security under a spotlight like never before.

WhatsApp found itself caught in the middle, and the world’s leading messenger batted away any and all criticism by hammering home the end-to-end encryption point. As if to help make the point, the two messengers than benefited most from WhatsApp’s woes were Signal, which is default end-to-end encrypted, and Telegram, which is not.

WhatsApp happily taunted Telegram’s issues in public, rightly pointing out that the glib claims it makes about security and privacy are not supported by its technical deficiencies. WhatsApp was quieter on the Signal front, given that its smaller albeit fast-growing rival is the best secure messenger on the market today.

And, while Signal is cross-platform, it works better on Android than iPhone, because you can set it as the default system messenger, which means it will handle SMS as well as its own secure messaging. Yes, you’ll miss the rich chat format with contacts not using Signal, but encourage them to install the app, and all your group Signal messages will be secure. Android Messages approach to secure some of the messages for some of the people some of the time, doesn’t really cut it as an alternative.

Of course, it isn’t Signal or even WhatsApp that Google has in its sights with this update, it’s Apple and its much lauded iMessage platform. Comparing iMessage and Android Messages is difficult—one is an integrated, highly-secure architecture, while the other is a security layer added to a spider’s web messaging ecosystem.

Uniquely among secure messengers, iMessage offers multi-device, fully sync’d access, a rolling cloud back-up and ever-expanding integration into the phone’s OS. There is no Android-like option on iOS to switch out the default messenger, iMessage is one of Apple’s sticky defenses against users switching to Android.

iMessage does all the above without compromising end-to-end encryption, as long as you disable the general 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 make a point of never communicating with anyone who isn’t.

It’s great that Google has finally made this move. It just isn’t enough to resolve the issue. As WhatsApp’s boss Will Cathcart puts it, “end-to-end encryption locks tech companies out of particularly sensitive information. Will we be able to have a private conversation, or will someone always be listening in?” But that needs to be the default for ALL messages, both to individuals AND groups, not a pick and choose.

And so, what should you do? My current advice on messaging, whether Android or iOS, is to use WhatsApp day-to-day, because almost everyone you want to message will have the app and the Facebook privacy concerns were overblown. But you should also use Signal, benefiting as it continues to expand. And if you’re on Android, you should use Signal as your default system messenger. If you do this, then any messages you send to anyone with the app installed will automatically be sent over Signal.

Meanwhile, to compete, Google will need to evolve Android Messages to catch-up with the alternatives. That means group encryption, it means full-scale multi-device access, as Signal and iMessage provide today and as WhatsApp is about to introduce. And then it comes down to trust. Messaging isn’t just about content, it’s about metadata. And adding more data into the Google mix doesn’t make any sense.

And so, ultimately, the latest Android Messages update might seem like progress, but in reality, it solves a problem that Android users just don’t have.



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