Snowden: Signal safer than Allo or WhatsApp for ordinary users

21 Sep 2016

Image: EQRoy/Shutterstock

Google’s launch of Allo, its competitor to WhatsApp, has put a cat among the pigeons in terms of encryption. Edward Snowden has rowed into the debate recommending Signal over Allo or WhatsApp.

Google launched its Allo messaging platform yesterday, but appears to have rowed back on its original promises.

In May, Google maintained that all conversations of Allo users would be encrypted and that conversation logs would be stored on Google servers only transiently. But now, only messages marked Incognito will be end-to-end encrypted.

Future Human

Allo will store all non-Incognito messages until users manually delete them.

Messages are encrypted between the device and Google but they will be stored on Google servers.

Google is understood to have made the changes to improve its Smart Replies feature which tracks user behaviour using deep machine learning.

This has also raised the hackles of privacy and security advocates, because if behaviour can be learned, it opens another avenue to fraud.

“Particularly when it comes to marketing, companies often make unpopular decisions. But this one seems rather unfair to users who were looking forward to Allo’s announced privacy policy and features,” said Kate Kochetkova in the Kaspersky Security blog.

“We would like to see Google provide an alternative instead of forcing privacy-minded users to start Incognito chats every time if they want to keep their data private.

Snowden on Allo: Listen carefully, I shall only say this once

The debate has attracted the attention of on-the-run whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who dismissed Google Allo as “Google Surveillance”.

He said that if users really want to keep their messages private, they should use either TOR (The Onion Router) or Signal.

Signal is an encrypted instant messaging and voice calling application for Android and was developed by Open Whisper Systems.

All communications to other Whisper users are automatically end-to-end encrypted.

It also has mechanisms for verifying that no man-in-the-middle attack has occurred.

Snowden later added: “In seriousness, this is a complex question for which there is no one right answer. But relative to #Allo, Signal is safer for normal users.”

Edward Snowden imageEQRoy/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years