What is Google Allo and why are some warning against using it.
Google Allo Privacy
Google has built artificial intelligence into its new Allo “smart messaging” app to deliver a better chatting experience, but at what cost to our personal privacy?
What actually is Allo and why does it have privacy advocates like Edward Snowden alarmed?
What is Google Allo?
There are already lots of messaging apps but what makes Allo different is the inclusion of personal assistant that can provide answers to questions in a conversational manner.
The idea of an AI based personal assistant is not new.
There is already a hand full of apps already providing this.
- Apple has Siri,
- Microsoft has Cortana
- Google already has Google Assist
There are also others including Robin, Assistant.ai, Dragon Mobile Assistant, Jarvis, Smart Voice Assistant
Most of these services are voice activated and in my experience are very hit and miss, half the time they do not understand me or provide the answer I am seeking.
For this reason the use of these AI personal assistants has been slow. For myself, and many others they remain more of a novelty.
In a nutshell Google Allo is simply the combination of a messaging app with a text-based version of their pre-existing Google Assist app.
Think of it as a robot that watches everything people say and then stores it for later analysis, using that data to improve the app itself.
The integration of a personal assistant into a messaging app is a smart idea that will make accessing their AI personal assistant much easier.
By making a more useful messaging app they hope to capture the huge messaging app market and at the same time dominate the IA personal assistant space.
What are the privacy concerns?
Edward Snowden recently sent out tweets saying, “Don’t use Allo. Google’s latest Surveillance app”
When Google previewed their new app prior to release they said that the messages would only be stored temporarily, limiting the possible impact of any data breach and retaining some privacy for users.
But now after release Google announced it won’t be doing that, but instead it will keep a copy of all conversations.
Google claim they will use that data to improve parts of the app, such as its smart replies feature. That will allow the app to read through conversations and try and work out how people talk – it can then use that data to suggest what they might want to say to their friends.
This means that all your chats will be stored on Google’s servers indefinitely, and are able to be read by it.
Is the idea of online privacy an illusion anyway?
The concerns about Google Allo are much the same as the concerns about most other apps and social media channels where you store and share personal information.
All have the potential for abuse by the companies that provide them, and by authorities with legal or, as many believe, clandestine access.
Unless you are prepared to go off the grid you can’t live today without being constantly requested to provide information. Some of the requested information is optional and some mandatory.
With the optional information, it is usually in exchange for some perceived benefit as in provide X and then you can get Y.
With something like Google Allo it’s a matter of exchanging some privacy for the conveyance provided by the App.
This is a perfectly valid approach as long as you are aware of all the facts and understand the risks.
I know the idea that we can live in a modern society and retain real privacy is for the most part allusion. Despite this I still believe that it is still something we need to strive for and be vigilant in defending.
Should you avoid using the app?
It comes down to how much you trust (or distrust) Google and your government, and how paranoid you are.
My advice is that if you want to use it, then do so, but with care. Regardless of where you stand on the matter of privacy you should always consider the potential for everything you enter and do online being watched and recorded. Every email and message you sent and received being saved and indexed in huge databases. If you keep this at the back of your mind at all times then you will be less likely to share anything that might come back to haunt you at a later date
About the Author
Christopher is an IT specialist with 30 years of experience in developing technology working with corporates and SME’s. Chris is a Microsoft Certified System Engineer and holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology, as well as numerous certificate based qualifications in technology and application development.