Google’s messaging strategy over the past decade has been all over the place, and more recently, the company is betting the farm on “Messages,” 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 available for around three decades. RCS adds better media support, read notifications, and other modern features to traditional phone-based texting. Google tried working with carriers to roll it out as a more standardized technology (like RCS), but the company eventually just rolled it out to everyone with Google’s Messages app installed. As a result, it’s not as open of a standard as Google’s marketing would lead you to 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’s starting to test end-to-end encryption for group chats. The company said, “now, end-to-end encryption is starting to roll out for group chats and will be available to some users in the open beta program over the coming weeks. This shouldn’t even be a thought — just an expectation and something anyone texting should not have to 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 both an Android phone and the Android Messages app — if someone has a third-party SMS app (like Samsung Messages) or an iPhone, you are reverted back to non-encrypted RCS or even regular SMS.
It’s great to see more messaging services switching to end-to-end encryption by default. However, if privacy is important to you, use should use Signal or another service that doesn’t ever revert to insecure security.