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Google’s ‘Chat’ service a gift to cybercriminals: Amnesty

RCS is a communication protocol between mobile-telephone carriers and between phone and carrier

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Google's new Search feature gives single result to certain queries. Pixabay
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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.

Google Chat is becoming more famous.

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.

Also Read: Google Will Take Action If Apps Violate Its Policies

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. “Following the revelations by CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden, end-to-end encryption has become recognised as an essential safeguard for protecting people’s privacy when using messaging apps. With this new Chat service, Google shows a staggering failure to respect the human rights of its customers,” Westby said in a statement.

A Google picture.
The Chat is a security threat. VOA

In the wake of the recent Facebook data scandal, Westby said that Google’s decision is not only dangerous but also out of step with current attitudes to data privacy. “Google should immediately scrap it in its current form and instead give its customers a product that protects their privacy,” Westby suggested.

Google is going all in on building the Rich Communication Services (RCS). RCS is a communication protocol between mobile-telephone carriers and between phone and carrier, aiming at replacing SMS messages with a text-message system that is more rich, provide phonebook polling and transmit in-call multimedia. IANS

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Google Shuts Down ‘Censored’ Chinese Search Project

Google had earlier launched a search engine in China in 2006 but pulled the plug in 2010, citing Chinese government efforts to limit free speech and block websites

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A Google logo is displayed at the entrance to the internet based company's offices in Toronto. VOA

Facing widespread criticism over its “censored” Search engine for the Chinese market, Google has reportedly shut down a data collection system that was key to develop the search project code-named “Dragonfly”.

According to a report in The Intercept on Tuesday, the move comes after hundreds of Google employees raised internal complaints that the project had been kept secret from them.

The report found that Google employees, working on the Dragonfly project, “had been using a Beijing-based website to help develop blacklists for the censored search engine”.

The website www.265.com is a Chinese-language web directory service which Google bought in 2008 from a billionaire Chinese entrepreneur.

“265.com provides its Chinese visitors with news updates, information about financial markets, horoscopes, and advertisements for cheap flights and hotels,” said the report.

“As The Intercept reported in August, it appears that Google has used 265.com as a honeypot for market research, storing information about Chinese users’ searches before sending them along to Baidu,” the report added.

Google engineers working on Dragonfly obtained large datasets showing queries that Chinese people were entering into the 265.com search engine.

“Members of Google’s privacy team, however, were kept in the dark about the use of 265.com,” said the report, quoting sources.

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Google shuts down ‘censored’ Chinese Search project: Report. VOA

Now, the teams working on Dragonfly are no longer gathering search queries from mainland China.

“Significantly, several groups of engineers have now been moved off of Dragonfly completely, and told to shift their attention away from China to instead work on projects related to India, Indonesia, Russia, the Middle East and Brazil,” the report claimed.

Google was yet to comment on the report.

Last week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told a US House Judiciary Committee that the company had “no plans” to launch a search product in China.

In November, Google employees wrote in an open letter to the company that their “opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be”.

Also Read- Madhya Pradesh Waives off $5.3Bn in Farm Debt

“Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions,” they wrote.

Google had earlier launched a search engine in China in 2006 but pulled the plug in 2010, citing Chinese government efforts to limit free speech and block websites. (IANS)