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Chat is Google's next big fix for Android's messaging mess
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-04-20 21:21:55

The Verge has a big exclusive - Google has managed to corral carriers into supporting something called the "Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services", or Chat, which basically replaces SMS in every Android phone.

top-tier Android phone can cost upwards of a thousand dollars, and for that money, you'll get some amazing features. It will have a stellar screen, top-flight camera, gobs of storage, and an absolutely atrocious texting experience.

Most people in the world, whether they buy an iPhone or an Android phone, dump all the preinstalled chat applications into a junk folder, install WhatsApp or WeChat (or Telegram in repressive dictatorships like Russia and Iran), and forget this American obsession with iMessage vs. Google's 238437 chat apps even exists.

That being said.

Now, the company is doing something different. Instead of bringing a better app to the table, it's trying to change the rules of the texting game, on a global scale. Google has been quietly corralling every major cellphone carrier on the planet into adopting technology to replace SMS. It's going to be called "Chat", and it's based on a standard called the "Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services". SMS is the default that everybody has to fall back to, and so Google's goal is to make that default texting experience on an Android phone as good as other modern messaging apps.

Sounds like something they should've done ten years ago, but as you dive further into the details, a whole bunch of huge red flags pop up:

But remember, Chat is a carrier-based service, not a Google service. It's just "Chat", not "Google Chat". In a sign of its strategic importance to Google, the company has spearheaded development on the new standard, so that every carrier's Chat services will be interoperable. But, like SMS, Chat won't be end-to-end encrypted, and it will follow the same legal intercept standards. In other words: it won't be as secure as iMessage or Signal.

In the current political and societal climate, the lack of end-to-end encryption is absolutely bonkers. Obviously, there's no encryption because carriers (and our governments) want to snoop on our communications, but with end-to-end encrypted options readily available, why even bother going 2-3 years back in time?

If you're still trying to wrap your head around the idea that Google won't have a standalone consumer chat app, well, so am I. "The fundamental thesis behind the RCS protocol is it's a carrier service," Sabharwal says. That means that the carriers will be the final arbiters of what Chat can and can't do - and whether it will be successful. The good news is that Google appears to have herded all the carrier cats into a box where their Chat services will actually be interoperable.

Isn't the point to get away from under carrier control, not slide back under it?

I just don't see how such an archaic service like this will ever gain any traction, when most of the world has already settled on its chat service, mostly dictated by what your friends and family uses. Without end-to-end encryption and while under carrier control, this service seems like a massive step backward - not forward.

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