Google’s messaging strategy over the past decade has been all over the place, and most recently the company is betting on “Messaging,” the default SMS app on most Android devices. Now the company is trying to make Messages more secure.
Google has been touting RCS as a replacement technology for SMS, the standard for instant messaging that has been around for about three decades. RCS adds better multimedia support, read notifications, and other modern features to traditional phone-based text messaging. Google tried to work with carriers to roll it out as a more standardized technology (like RCS), but the company eventually rolled it out to everyone with the Google Messages app installed. As a result, it’s not as open a standard as Google’s marketing would have you believe: it only works with Google’s messaging app, and most messages go through Google’s Jibe cloud.
Google revealed in a blog post today that it is beginning to test end-to-end encryption for group chats. The company said: “end-to-end encryption is now beginning to roll out for group chats and will be available to some users in the open beta program in the coming weeks. This shouldn’t even be a thought, just an expectation and something anyone texting shouldn’t worry about.”
The new feature is indicated by a “this chat is now end-to-end encrypted” message at the top. However, even after it’s fully rolled out, it will only work if everyone has an Android phone and the Android Messages app – if someone has a third-party SMS app (like Samsung Messages) or an iPhone, it will go back to no – RCS encrypted or even regular SMS.
It’s great to see more messaging services switch to end-to-end encryption by default. However, if privacy is important to you, you should use Signal or another service that will never go back to unsafe security.