Watch out, WhatsApp: Google Unveils ‘Chat’ Service to Replace SMS

Published April 22nd, 2018 - 11:15 GMT
The service, dubbed 'Chat', will run on Android phones through partnerships with dozens of mobile carriers around the world. (Shutterstock)
The service, dubbed 'Chat', will run on Android phones through partnerships with dozens of mobile carriers around the world. (Shutterstock)

Google is rolling out a new chat service to replace standard texting, a move that analysts say will offer Android users advanced features already found in popular chat services such as Apple's iMessage and Facebook's WhatsApp.

But the unveiling also represents a strategic retreat for the tech giant, experts say, which has struggled to prop up a dedicated chat app of its own. The service, dubbed Chat, is not a Google messaging app but will run on Android phones through partnerships with dozens of mobile carriers around the world. 

Chat offers several upgrades for Android users whose messaging relies on SMS, or short message service, a text-based system that has been widely adopted but surpassed by more feature-rich messaging apps.

The launch of Chat follows several failed attempts by Google to create its own competitive chat app. Allo, its most recent messaging product, was launched two years ago. But it has struggled to gain the massive following enjoyed by Facebook's two messaging apps, WhatsApp (1.5 billion users) and Messenger (1.3 billion users). Google is now "pausing" its work on Allo as it shifts its development efforts to Chat, the company told the Verge.

Google's 'Chat' service a precious gift to cybercriminals: Amnesty

Google's decision to launch a new messaging service called "Chat" without end-to-end encryption shows utter contempt for the privacy of Android users and has handed a precious gift to cybercriminals and government spies alike, Amnesty International has said.

Communications on the new "Chat" service will not be sent over the Internet but through mobile phone carriers, like SMS text messages, according to reports.

In a statement to The Verge this week, a Google spokesperson confirmed that the new service will not use end-to-end encryption and that Google is "pausing investment" in its existing mobile messaging app "Allo" which has an option for end-to-end encryption.

"Not only does this shockingly retrograde step leave Google lagging behind its closest competitors -- Apple's iMessage and Facebook's WhatsApp both have end-to-end encryption in place by default -- it is also a step backwards from the company's previous attempts at online messaging," Joe Westby, a technology and human rights researcher at Amnesty International, said on Friday.

Amnesty International considers end-to-end encryption a minimum requirement for technology companies to ensure that private information in messaging apps stays private.

End-to-end encryption is a way of scrambling digital data so that only the sender and recipient can see it.

When it is in place, even the company providing the service is unable to access the content of communications.


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