Allo, is it privacy you're looking for?

Google has launched its artificial intelligence inspired messaging app Allo, but seems to have compromised on user privacy in its desperation to compete with WhatsApp.

Jamie Davies

September 22, 2016

3 Min Read
Allo, is it privacy you're looking for?

Google has launched its artificial intelligence inspired messaging app Allo, but seems to have compromised on user privacy in its desperation to compete with WhatsApp.

Artificial intelligence offers the industry a lot of positives, from predictive analytics through to automation of an employee’s most mundane tasks, however Google has seemingly taken the concept one step further removing the users need to think during a conversation. After all, in a world where Netflix box sets are being released on an hourly basis, and Tinder profiles are set to burst with new matches, who now has the time to think about what to say in a chat with a mate?

While the basics of the platform are ultimately similar to competitors in the market, Google has chosen to incorporate its artificial intelligence capabilities in an effort to create a unique selling point and tempt users away from established platforms such as WhatsApp and iMessage. While a very simple function for the moment, the AI component of the platform will suggest messages to the user which (in theory) should be consistent with the conversation.

For example, should your friend upload a picture of a dog, the platform may suggest sending a message along the lines of “what an amazing dog”. Once again, it is a simple feature for the moment, though there could be the potential for a user not having to think about what to say in the conversation. Through various AI techniques, the platform could farm social media platforms to continue the conversation.

Using natural language processing, it could be possible for the AI to create questions for the user, for example, “how long have you had the dog”, to take the conversation one step further. Once this question has been posted, image recognition capabilities could trace through pictures on social media to identify pictures where a dog is included and identify the introduction of said dog. The earliest picture could be six months old allowing the platform to suggest the response “six months now”.

When Allo was first unveiled there was a fair bit of talk about privacy, Google having identified this as a differentiator, especially after Facebook’s own-goal over WhatsApp data sharing. However, as The Verge notes, unless you specifically request ‘incognito mode’ Google will keep a record of conversations indefinitely and, as mega whistle-blower Edward Snowden observes, this information could then be requested by the cops.

Having said that end-to-end encryption will be a standard feature for the platform, adding another headache for intelligence agencies around the world. Would someone give our spooks a break?! All they want to know is what to get us for Christmas…

While its early days for the offering and the WhatsApp team are unlikely to be losing sleep for the moment, there is potential for Google. The team has shown with the launch of Google Hangouts that it can play in the conversation space, and the worldwide dominance of Android as an operating system gives the perfect platform for Google to challenge WhatsApp in the mobile messaging segment.

Although one of the largest buzzwords in a field of buzzwords, artificial intelligence is still in its infancy. Google has shown it is capable of breaking dominance in market segments through innovation, determination and a willingness to invest heavily, though the algorithms behind artificial intelligence are still not completely bug free. For the moment it looks like we’ll have to continue thinking about what we say next, irrelevant of how many Tinder matches are potentially out there.

Look, a video.

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