World News – AU – Google is rolling out end-to-end encryption for RCS in Android Messages beta


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After two long and two years, every Android user worldwide (outside of China and Russia) now has access to the next-generation texting standard that replaces SMS. Google directly offers RCS chat services through its Android Messaging app to anyone who installs and uses it as the default texting app, which partially bypasses the carrier rollout that has sometimes ranged from slow to inconsistent to disabling..

And just as importantly, Google announced that it is finally starting to enable its main privacy feature: end-to-end encryption. For Android users who use Android messages, conversations between two parties will eventually be encrypted by default, which means that neither carriers nor Google will be able to read the content of these messages..

Although people who sign up for the public beta of Android Messages have started rolling out encryption, turning on encryption for RCS is critical. It is a huge privacy gain, because it could mean that the actual alternative to SMS will be, by default, private on the smartphone platform used by the vast majority of people around the world..

For people using another smartphone platform – iPhone – we have no word on whether Apple intends to adopt the RCS standard.. But with every carrier around the world joining, and now that there is a clearer path to ensuring private communication with the RCS, the pressure on Apple to participate is likely to increase..

Unfortunately SMS will be completely deprecated and replaced with RCS only if all goes as planned by Google. Since plans were initially announced to migrate to RCS as an Android texting platform, rolling out the standard has been mired in confusion.. In an effort to be neutral and make texting from Android a common standard among carriers around the world, Google has set itself the multi-billion dollar cat herding mission – with unfortunately predictable results..

However, in the past year, Google has started to take matters into place on its own, slowly allowing users in different countries to obtain RCS services directly from Google instead of waiting for the carrier to operate them.. (Even when carriers have operated it, it is often not interoperable. )

The company announced today that the process has been completed and that RCS is available through Android messaging everywhere Google provides its services (i. e. Not china). In certain regions and with certain carriers, Google will continue to allow these carriers to operate RCS services if they choose to do so.

Worldwide availability is a significant milestone, but to me, the fact that Google is building on top of RCS to have Android messages encrypted by default end-to-end by default is much bigger news. So let’s get into how exactly that works because there are a few things that you need to be aware of.

Firstly, as mentioned earlier, it will be rolling out in beta this month, and Google doesn’t have any timeline for when encrypted chats will go to the main app.. As for people wanting to subscribe to the public beta of Android Messages, be aware that, as usual, Google will roll out the feature gradually, so you may not get it right away..

End-to-end encryption will only work in one-to-one chats when both users use Android messages and receive the update. Enabling end-to-end encryption in group chats is a more complicated issue, so Google won’t stick to a schedule for expanding the feature..

Android web messages are just a gateway to the messaging app on your phone, so just like Signal and WhatsApp, the texts you send in that interface will also be encrypted. Speaking of Signal, Google chose Signal to implement encryption – just like WhatsApp. (Signaling Protocol is simply the code used to secure messages; it does not mean that these applications can work between them. )

If you are messaging with someone who is not using Android Messages (for example, someone is using Samsung Messages or iPhone), going back to RCS Chat or less encrypted SMS will still work fine. And since the more advanced features of Android Messages are built into the app rather than live in the cloud, turning on encryption shouldn’t break any other app experiences..

The saga of bringing carriers and many other business interests into compliance with the RCS standard continues. This standard is called Global Profile, and it’s still evolving as I write this. The only thing that is not part of the public profile is the encryption standard adopted by Google. It builds it right over RCS in the Android messaging client.

This does not mean that Google intends its encryption solution proprietary. The company told me that it would be our pleasure to work with any company to work on compatibility. Google has published a brief technical paper available that provides a high-level overview of Google’s method of encoding in Android messages.

In other words, Google Encryption may someday become part of the Public Profile Standard. As with Apple, there could be some pressure on GSMA (Carrier Association) to move toward more encryption. Facebook still intends to make all of its messaging apps encrypted by default, so it’s increasingly becoming a standard for text messaging. (Disclosure: My wife works at Facebook Reality Labs, the company’s AR / VR division. Read my complete ethics statement here. )

As with everything related to RCS, it is better to think of today’s announcements as part of an evolving process rather than launching them. Many things in technology have big, joyful moments as products become available instantly and start making an impact instantly. RCS isn’t one of those things.

Update, 10:25 a.m. ET, November 19: Google has released the technical paper on how encryption is actually implemented, rather than releasing it later this month as expected. We’ve also added a link to the availability map, showing the exclusion of both China and Russia. The article has been updated to reflect this.

Messages, Google, end-to-end encryption, and rich communication services

World News – Australia – Google offers end-to-end encryption for RCS in Android Messages beta
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