WASHINGTON: Google took aim Wednesday at the red-hot mobile messaging market, with a new artificial intelligence-powered Allo app that seeks to compete with popular rivals such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
But the app’s reliance on Google’s predictive software drew immediate criticism from privacy advocates who argued it could open up user data to law enforcement ─ with former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden warning people not to use it.
Google defended its privacy stand, saying users can opt for a more secure “incognito” mode if they prefer.
The app includes Google Assistant, an artificial intelligence program which makes live suggestions as you chat.
“Google Allo can help you make plans, find information, and express yourself more easily in chat. And the more you use it, the more it improves over time,” Google said.
Conversations in Allo will be encrypted, according to Google. And additional privacy will be offered with an “incognito” option in which messages will disappear after a fixed period.
But some analysts expressed disappointment that Google did not go further in agreeing not to store messages on its servers, where they can be accessed by authorities.
Christopher Soghioan, a privacy researcher with the American Civil Liberties Union, lamented that Google “decided that improving auto responses was worth making all messages accessible to law enforcement.”
Snowden, the former US intelligence contractor wanted for leaking National Security Agency documents on surveillance, said in a tweet, “Don’t use Allo.”
A later tweet from Snowden called Allo an “app that records every message you ever send and makes it available to police upon request.”
Google argues that the “smart” features of the application require “data processing” and that the tech giant needs to store chats to improve responses.
“We’ve given users transparency and control over their data in Google Allo,” a Google statement emailed to AFP said.