Google’s has released yet another messaging application into the crowded market with ‘Allo’, representing a modest step forward in innovation with the integration of Google AI. Allo includes stickers, animations and a quick text resizing tool–all table stakes for a modern messaging application, but also includes an assistant to help users make plans, find information, respond contextually to messages and even learn from the user’s behavior over time.
Primary new AI features include Smart Reply. “With Smart Reply, you can respond to messages with just a tap, so you can send a quick “yup” in response to a friend asking “Are you on your way?” ” said Google in the statement released today. “Smart Reply will also suggest responses for photos. If your friend sends you a photo of their pet, you might see Smart Reply suggestions like “aww cute!””
More impressively, Google Allo’s Assistant will have conversations with the user, learning from passed conversations and helping to accomplish task while remaining in the app like finding nearby restaurants, sports scores or tracking down a link to a YouTube video. “You no longer need to leave a conversation with friends just to grab an address, share your favorite YouTube video, or pick a dinner spot. Just type @google to bring your Assistant into any group chat.”
This powerful machine learning does introduce a number of privacy concerns, which Google is already taking fire for. The Google Assistant integration means that by default, messages are required to be sent without end-to-end encryption. This means Google’s Assistant reads your messages in order to provide contextual aid, but the data can then be accessed by external parties such as law enforcement or Google themselves. The May announcement of the incumbent Allo app promised some of the most progressive message retention policies of any app: rather than keeping your texts forever, they would instead be stored “transiently”, ensuring that your full chat logs aren’t sitting on Google’s servers forever, and anonymously, so that even if the logs are accessed, they can’t be linked back to the sender.
Now that Allo is in app stores, those features appear to be missing in action. By default, messages are stored indefinitely, and linked directly to an account. To be fair, this is a default that can be changed: both end-to-end encryption and ephemeral messages can be turned on by the user as part of the app’s Incognito mode, although that disables the Assistant.
It would seem Google move forward with the less secure default to improve the learning features; the more data, the better the replies. In a statement, Google said: “We’ve given users transparency and control over their data in Google Allo. And our approach is simple – your chat history is saved for you until you choose to delete it.”
The app is currently being rolled out for iOS and Android worldwide.