Google has begun rolling out end-to-end encryption for Rich Communication Service, the SMS standard the industry giant is promoting as an alternative to SMS.
Abbreviated as RCS, Rich Communication Service offers a, well, richer user experience than the old SMS standard. Type indicators, presence information, location sharing, longer posts, and better media support are major selling points. They lead to things like better quality photos and videos, Wi-Fi chatting, knowing when a message has been read, sharing comments, and better group chat capabilities. As Ars Review editor Ron Amadeo pointed out last year, interest in RCS from carriers was lukewarm, so Google rolled it out with limited support.
Google said on Thursday it has now completed the global rollout of RCS and is moving into a new phase: end-to-end encryption. Interest in end-to-end encryption has exploded over the past decade, particularly with Edward Snowden’s revelations of the NSA’s indiscriminate spying of electronic communications.
End-to-end encryption is the antidote to such snooping. It uses strong cryptography to encrypt messages with a key that is unique to each user. Because the key is in the exclusive possession of each user, end-to-end encryption prevents anyone, including the app maker, ISP or provider, and three-letter agencies from reading a message. Messaging apps that currently offer E2EE include Signal, WhatsApp, and iMessage, just to name three.
Now Google wants to join the club. For now, E2EE is only available to people using the beta version of the Android Messages app. Even then, E2EE only works for one-to-one messages between people using the Google app, and both senders and recipients must have chat features enabled. The rollout will continue until next year. Google has provided technical details here. The technical paper shows, among other things, that E2EE messages will be generated using the Signal protocol.
In 2016, Google introduced the messaging app Allo. It also offered E2EE, but only when users dug into a settings menu and turned it on. Two years later, Google killed it. This time with RCS, Google said, “eligible conversations are automatically upgraded to end-to-end encryption.”
Updated post to add details to penultimate paragraph.