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Google causes controversy by removing encryption from Allo

By James Walker     Sep 21, 2016 in Technology
Google has launched Allo, a new messaging app that's designed to allow you to express more emotions in text chats. Allo can integrate with Google Assistant to suggest message replies and take immediate action to messages like "sushi places nearby."
Allo was announced by Google at its I/O developers conference earlier this year. It is accompanied by Duo, a simplistic video calling app launched last month. Allo has now arrived for Android and iOS, enabling you to get started with the latest "smart" messaging app. Allo rivals existing services including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Google's own Hangouts. The company intends for it to become the default messaging experience on Android over time.
Allo's standout feature is the inclusion of Google Assistant. This allows you to type "@google" into a chat to directly ask the search engine questions. It means you don't have to leave the app so often to look up pieces of information or share a photo or video. You can also find places, check travel times and find search results, within message threads.
This functionality extends to Smart Reply, Allo's ability to predict your response to incoming messages. If a friend asks you "Are you on your way?" or "Are you coming?" Allo will automatically suggest a response, such as "yes" or "I'm running late." You'll be able to send the message with a single tap.
Smart Reply is also available on images. When a contact sends you a photo, Allo uses Google's image recognition technology to work out the subject. It can then make appropriate suggestions for replies, cutting down the typing time in conversations. Allo learns your writing style with use and can include message features such as emoji.
Google Allo
Google Allo
Allo also has integrated drawing features, sticker packs, GIF support and doodling options. You can scribble over images in a similar way to Snapchat and Instagram, letting you modify your photos before you send. You can change the text size of your messages by dragging the "Send" button up or down the display, giving you the option to adjust the impact of your chats.
"Whether it’s planning a night out or just catching up, we all rely on messaging to stay in touch with friends and loved ones," said Google. "But too often we have to hit pause on our conversations — whether it’s to check the status of a flight or look up that new restaurant. So we created a messaging app that helps you keep your conversation going, by providing assistance when you need it."
Allo's launch has been accompanied by privacy fears around the Google Assistant integration. It requires messages to be sent without end-to-end encryption by default, enabling Google and law enforcement to read them. The company has also backed down on its original pledge to store messages for the minimum amount of time required and in non-identifiable form. All chats will now be stored persistently by default.
Google Allo
Google Allo
Users can start a secure chat by entering Incognito mode. This enables end-to-end encryption and doesn't log activity. It leaves Google Assistant inaccessible though. Google said it has made the change to improve the performance of Allo's server-side machine learning. Without a repository of messages to work from, the systems were struggling to generate sensible Smart Reply suggestions.
Whether users actually want these features over increased privacy is a matter of opinion for each individual. Google has clearly made a choice though, emphasising continued development of advanced machine learning over consumer privacy. This allows it to innovate while potentially leaving user data at risk.
Allo is available now in many regions on Android and iOS. It will roll out worldwide in the next few days. Google does not currently have a web-based client for Allo, preventing it from becoming a full Hangouts replacement. The app does feature SMS integration though, enabling you to use it as your primary messaging app.
More about Google, google allo, allo, Messaging, Apps
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