The Facebook founder laid out his plan for the next steps how Facebook will evolve with a focus on privacy and data security, and promised more open and transparency in the transition.
In a long post published on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg first recognised that going forward, users may prefer more private communication than socialising publicly. He used the analogy of town squares vs. living rooms. To facilitate this, he aims to use the technologies of WhatsApp as the foundation to build the Facebook ecosystem.
Zuckerberg laid out principles for the next steps, including:
Private interactions: this is largely related to users’ control over who they communicate with, safeguarded by measures like group size control and limiting public stories being share;
End-to-end encryption: this is about encrypting messages going through Facebook’s platforms. An interesting point here is that Zuckerberg admitted that Facebook’s security systems can read the content of users messages sent over Messenger. WhatsApp is already implementing end-to-end encryption and is not storing encryption keys, which makes it literally impossible for it share content of communication between individuals with any other third parties including the authorities. Zuckerberg recalled the case of the Facebook’s VP for Latin America being jailed in Brazil to illustrate his point.
Reducing Permanence: this is mainly about giving users the choice to decide how long they like their content (messages, photos, videos, etc.) to be stored, to ensures what they said many years ago would not come back to haunt them.
Safety: Facebook will guard the data safe against malignant attacks
Interoperability: Facebook aims to make its platforms interoperable and may extend to be interoperable with SMS too.
Secure data storage: one of the most important point here is Zuckerberg vowed not to save user data in countries which “have a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression”.
To do all these right, Zuckerberg promised, Facebook is committed to “consulting with experts, advocates, industry partners, and governments — including law enforcement and regulators”.
None of these principles are new or surprising, and are an understandable reaction to recent history when Facebook has been battered by scandals of both data leaking and misuse of private data for monetisation purpose. However there are a couple of questions that are not answered:
What changes Facebook needs to make to its business model: in other words, when Facebook limits its own ability to penetrate user data it weakens its value for targeted advertisers. How will it convince the investors this is the right step to take, and how will it to compensate the loss?
Is Facebook finally giving up its plan to re-enter markets like China? Zuckerberg has huffed and puffed over the recent years without bringing down the Great Wall. While his peers in Apple have happily handed over the keys to iCloud and Google has working hard, secretly or not so secretly to re-enter China, how will the capital market react to Facebook’s public statement that “there’s an important difference between providing a service in a country and storing people’s data there”?
RCS has been touted as a saviour when the SMS value has been destroyed by OTT messaging services, but without much success, but it may finally have find its moment.
Mavenir, the software company, presented on day 1 of MWC 2019, promoting its rich communication solutions offered by Rakutan. The key benefits, or the main use cases that RCS can differentiate from OTT messaging actually are less to do with taking consumers back to texting each other, or P2P messaging, but rather the communication between businesses and consumers, or A2P messaging.
This view is corroborated by Infobip, a Croatia-based messaging platform that provides aggregated OTT messaging services (e.g. WhatsApp, LINE, Viber, KakaoTalk, etc.) for their corporate clients, which the clients then can use for customer service and CRM. However, the company told Telecoms.com that its dominant business, which it has seen annual growth of between 30% and 40%, is SMS and RCS based services.
One of the use cases is helping businesses improve customer engagement. Despite that on feature comparison RCS is mostly playing catching up on OTT messaging services, SMS and RCS tramp OTTs in consumer trust. To quote Guilliaume Le Mener, Manevir’s SVP for Enterprise Business, RCS is a “clean channel”, not tarnished by the privacy scandals committed by Facebook and co, or the over monetisation by others. Research shared by Mavenir showed 97% of SMS / RCS are opened within 3 minutes.
In one case, Infobip was hired by Twitter to reengage the inactive users, after the social media giant failed the mission with its early efforts through email. Thanks to its rich features, RCS messages can enable users to explore the content directly. For those users on phones not compatible with RCS, brands can choose to fall back on SMS with a web line. The results were much more improved also owing largely to the capability of producing rich analytics to evaluate the campaign effectiveness and make quick decisions on any changes needed.
In addition to A2P messaging, RCS is also being used by brands to engage consumers in P2A, that is engaging directly with the brands through messaging. On the brand side the service can be handled by bots. This will then need to be supported by AI and analytics which will be another business opportunity for the RCS solution providers. With OTTs also actively moving into the P2A domains, again this is an area that operators need to have a stronghold for RCS before it is too late.
For Rakuten, RCS may be particularly meaningful, as, coming from an internet service and MVNO background, Rakuten has a big range of digital service tied to a user’s Rakuten ID. RCS will be a key instrument to maintain and strengthen customer engagement when it builds out its 5G network from ground up.
The latest report published by App Annie showed mobile apps had their best year in 2018, and will get better in 2019.
In the report titled “The State of Mobile in 2019 – The Most Important Trends to Know”, the mobile apps analytics firm App Annie showed the latest data of the mobile apps industry, as well as their projections for the near future.
In short, the apps industry is doing rather well. “Consumers spent $101 billion on apps globally in 2018. This is larger than the global live and recorded music industry, double the size of the global sneaker market, and nearly three times the size of the oral care industry,” said Danielle Levitas, EVP, Global Marketing & Insights, App Annie. “Mobile experiences are so central to how we live, work and play and with consumers spending 3 hours a day on mobile, it’s clear how vital this platform is for all businesses in 2019 and beyond.”
Here is a snapshot of the highlights:
A few additional data points also caught our eyes:
Consumers on average spent 50% more time in mobile apps in 2018 than they did in 2016. Social and Communications apps made up 50% of total time spent globally in apps in 2018, followed by Video Players and Editors (15%) and Games (10%);
In Indonesia, mobile users spent over 4 hours a day in apps — 17% of users’ entire day. In mature markets like the US and Canada, the average user spent nearly 3 hours a day in mobile apps in 2018;
On average, consumers in the US, Australia, South Korea, and Japan have over 100 apps on their smartphones;
74% of all consumer spending on mobile apps was on games;
YouTube accounted for 9 of every 10 minutes spent in the top 5 video streaming apps in 2018. It was also the number 1 app by time spent in video streaming apps for all markets except China;
The global consumer spending on dating apps grew by 190% from 2016 to 2018. Tinder successfully defended its number 1 position.
In terms competition between apps and between companies, three Facebook apps occupied the top three spots on the table of monthly active users. The same trio also took the top spots on the most downloads table, but Facebook Messenger edge Facebook to the top. Netflix netted the highest consumer spend on apps (followed by Tinder), while Sony’s Fate/Grand Order sat at the top of the games enjoying the highest consumer spend. Tencent on the hand, thanks to its strong line-up of apps and games, was the company that consumers spent the most on in 2018.
The firm predicted that in 2019, the total consumer spending in app stores will double that of the global box office, to reach $120 billion. When it comes to media consumption, the firm sees in 2019 that 10 minutes of every hour spent consuming media across TV and internet will come from video streaming on mobile. Increased availability of premium content and service will also help.
Two years ago, we started hearing from some quarters of the industry that apps economy was dead. To read the latest data from App Annie, that pronouncement was gravely premature.
Google has finally called it a day on Allo, its attempt to compete with WhatsApp, to focus on its Messages product.
The concept of Allo was an interesting one to say the least, but it never took off. Launched back in September 2016, Allo made use of the artificial intelligence capabilities in Google. The platform included a number of features geared around making the app smarter which, if used excessively enough, meant you wouldn’t even have to message someone yourself. The dream was to take the unnecessary you out of the conversation.
And it didn’t work out well for Google.
Investments in the platform were frozen earlier this year, with many of the features being migrated across to the Messages platform. This is a product area which will get more attention at the expense of Allo, Google’s version of 15 minutes of fame.
“Thanks to partnerships with over 40 carriers and device makers, over 175 million of you are now using Messages, our messaging app for Android phones, every month,” Google said on its blog. “In parallel, we built Google Allo, a smart messaging app, to help you get more done in your chats and express yourself more easily.
“Earlier this year we paused investment in Allo and brought some of its most-loved features – like Smart Reply, GIFs and desktop support – into Messages. Given Messages’ continued momentum, we’ve decided to stop supporting Allo to focus on Messages.”
Users can export any contacts and conversations to the Messages platform, but in March 2019, Allo will say goodbye.
As far as we can see Allo failed for one reason. Google tried to steal market share in the messaging space by over-engineering the idea. For a messaging platform to be successful, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated, it just has to work. WhatsApp is not complicated, but it works and has scale. Google tried to be Google, and it didn’t work.
The concept of simplicity winning over an industry should be a very familiar one for Google, as it is what the entire enterprise is built on. The Google search engine might be an impressive feat of engineering behind the scenes, but presented to the user it is a simple, functional and accurate search engine. Google has set its place in the search world with a simple product and no-one else can compete.
We wouldn’t want Google to stop experimenting with weird and wonderful ideas, some great products have emerged while the ludicrous Loon is starting to gather pace, but you have to take the rough with the smooth when you let your imagination run wild. This is one example of Google having better ideas.
Considering the size of the fish which are circling Facebook, you have to wonder whether a group harbouring such unrealistic demands will even register on the social media giants radar.
Aside from various governments challenging the way in which the company collects, protects and uses personal information, Freedom From Facebook is the latest advocacy group to contest the social media giants dominant position in the world of messaging. Facebook is a political punching bag at the moment, and while the Cambridge Analytica scandal is likely to impact the way information is collected and used for targeted advertising, the extremity of Freedom From Facebook’s demands questions whether anyone will take the group seriously.
“The FTC should spin off Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger into competing networks, require interoperability, so we have the freedom to communicate across social networks, and impose strong privacy rules that empower and protect us,” the group states on its new webpage.
So here is what the group is demanding. Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger should be spun off to form separate business, however, the platforms should be forced to allow users on competing social networks to communicate with one another. Another demand is focused on increasing privacy rules and data protection, which is reasonable.
The issue here is splitting up the Facebook empire. While it is a valiant crusade to erode the influence of Facebook on today’s society, asking the FTC to force the spin-offs of acquired assets is essentially asking for the key to the Pandora’s box of acquisitions. Once precedent is set through this example, who is to say how many challenges there would be to other companies who have manufactured themselves into a dominant market position through intelligent acquisition.
Should Disney be forced to dissemble its empire after acquiring Pixar in 2006 and Marvel in 2009? Exxon bought Mobil in 1998 making it the world’s 10th largest company by revenue, perhaps this would be considered an unfair position. Back in 2005, Google bought Android for $50 million (an absurdly low figure in retrospect) giving it a dominant position in terms of data collection. If Facebook is forced to water down its control over messaging, surely Google’s position would have to be questioned. Staying in the tech world, Amazon bought Souq in 2017, often referred to as the ‘Amazon of the Middle-East’, consolidating its position as the world’s leading eCommerce business.
Should the FTC force Facebook to scale back on the grounds of creating a dominant market through acquisition, chaos would break loose. Pretty much every market leader would be challenging on the grounds of distorting competition. Precedent is the saviour and the demon of the legal world.
Facebook should be prevented from acquiring any competitors, or platforms which could be considered a future competitor to the business. This market is distorted enough already. However, forcing the spin-off on the reasoning of Freedom From Facebook is completely unreasonable and dangerous.
Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Guillaume Le Mener, GM of Enterprise Solutions at Mavenir argues that there may still be a lot more to RCS than you think.
We have taken it for granted. When we use our smartphone, it is just another icon on the screen but, believe it or not, SMS is more than 35 years old. It was first proposed for the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) in 1982, although its most popular time was the late 90s and early 2000s, when entire generations mastered the art of compressing ideas, passions and conversations into small snippets using the most ingenious abbreviations in order to fit within the 160 characters limit. And its popularity generated a significant amount of revenue for mobile network operators (MNO) worldwide.
Then the mobile internet exploded, data plans became ubiquitous and over-the-top (OTT) applications usurped the throne that SMS had held for more than two decades and the MNO’s person-to-person (P2P) messaging revenue was severely diminished. However, SMS continued to live on as the platform of choice for application-to-person (A2P) or business-to-consumer (B2C) interactions. You have been using SMS to receive your two-factor authentication codes, confirmations about flight reservations, links to download mobile boarding passes, discount codes and coupons, or alerts every time your credit card was not present for a transaction. Mobile messaging is a part of our lives, even though we don’t pay much attention to it anymore: we have taken it for granted.
But mobile messaging has been going through a complete transformation. Originally embraced by the GSM Association (GSMA) in 2008, a new messaging protocol was developed with the goal of succeeding SMS as the mobile messaging application of choice: Rich Communication Services (RCS).
RCS was initially an industry response to the threat of the OTT messaging applications that were eroding their P2P SMS revenue and so it focused on introducing the features that made these applications popular—conversations, images, video, audio, typing notifications, read receipts—while ensuring the global reach that SMS provided.
For many years, RCS struggled to grab interest from MNOs and handset manufacturers because the business case wasn’t favorable. The OTT applications had taken over the P2P business almost completely—except on the markets where all-you-can-eat SMS plans were already in place—and it was uncertain that RCS could retake the throne. But recently, RCS introduced the Universal Profile—which enhances its capabilities by laying out the common functionality that needs to be supported by every player—and there has been a sudden interest to use RCS for A2P applications, a scenario that provides a profitable business case. Moreover, there is a push by mobile handset industry giants such as Google and Samsung. All these developments have infused RCS with new life.
A major improvement in A2P messages
The RCS open platform provides developers with everything they require to implement and deploy advanced communication applications. The message richness, combined with its universal reach, make it a very attractive delivery vehicle for brands, and offers new revenue opportunities for MNOs.
RCS solutions have been in mobile networks for several years provide major improvements in A2P scenarios such as:
Sender identified by name, not a short-code or MSISDN
Integration of graphics and QR codes
Hot-buttons to websites replacing links
Executable code embedded in the message, enabling customers to take action immediately without going to a website
Spam protection and privacy control measures to maintain customer trust
And by combining it with solutions like messaging-as-a-platform (MaaP), RCS provides the basis for up-selling A2P SMS now, and a chatbot platform in the near future, as well as P2P message monetization and data sponsoring opportunities.
With Google pre-installing the new Android Messages app on Android 8.0 Oreo and Samsung adding their own RCS capable messaging application on their smartphones, almost all the Android devices launched in 2018 will be RCS compatible and most major networks have deployed or are deploying Universal Profile compliant RCS solutions in the market — 55 operators and 11 OEMs globally as of January 2018, according to GSMA, with a forecast of 200 operators by Q1 2019.
What about the iPhone?
Even though the iPhone represents a smaller market share—around 20% globally according to Statista—Apple is the second most popular smartphone vendor after Samsung and their flagship device is still considered one of the trendsetters in the industry. Therefore, it is only natural that key industry decision makers look at their positioning around RCS.
iOS 11, the latest version of the iPhone operating system, does not support RCS capabilities in their Messages application. Apple did not wait for RCS to become popular and invested in their own multimedia messaging solution that was named iMessage. The Messages application on the device automatically detects if a contact has the iMessage service and utilizes it in the conversation—the user knows because the messages are blue. If the destination does not support iMessage, the application falls back to utilize MMS or SMS, presenting the user with a green messaging interface.
But this doesn’t mean that RCS cannot be used on Apple devices. It is still possible to provide a downloadable application that allows users to benefit from RCS’ message richness and universal reach. In some cases, other iOS applications may utilize RCS as a messaging mechanism within a specific user experience. For example, amobile-native unified communications and collaboration (mUCC) solution uses RCS in the mobile network as the instant messaging delivery mechanism. RCS can deliver everything a unified communications solution needs—such as typing and delivery notifications, message store and forward, conversation synchronization, or image, video and audio assets— and more—for example, rich cards and carousels—with the ability to deliver messages to any phone number in the planet by downgrading to an MMS or SMS message when needed, just like iMessage does.
And although Apple does not usually advertise their roadmap, past experiences show that they normally adopt technologies once they are mature enough—such has been the case with WebRTC—which makes it likely that iOS will support RCS in the near future.
RCS has already permeated into the networks and is about to take the center stage in the mobile messaging theater.
Unbeknownst to most of the people, MNOs and device manufacturers have been implementing RCS within their solutions. The GSMA claims there were 159 million monthly active users of RCS globally, as of January 2018, forecasting 350 million by the end of 2018, representing a $74 billion market by 2021.
In the US, for example, T-Mobile is already claiming that 30 million customers are sending over 250 million RCS messages every day across their network.
With the closure of the Universal Profile 2.0 and the strong push by Android, in the next few months users will begin to see RCS in every aspect of their daily lives. Although they will not know it as RCS, for them it will be just messaging.
This year’s edition of Facebook’s developer conference was always going to be an interesting one, with executives scuttling away from the Cambridge Analytica fallout.
As with every year, it would be fair to expect some blockbuster announcements, but considering the nefarious maze the firm is currently negotiating, fire-fighting privacy concerns should also be on the agenda. So what did we gather from Day One?
Advertising business concedes a little bit of leverage
Personalised and targeted advertising has been a big topic over the last couple of weeks. CEO Mark Zuckerberg got a grilling from US legislators on the topic, while CTO Mike Schroepfer received the same condemnation from a Select Committee of MPs in London. At the annual extravaganza, there was always going to be a nod to privacy enhancements.
The new feature, which will be known as Clear History, will allow users to opt-out of the practice of collecting and monetization of web browsing history through social media plug-ins on third-party websites. This has always been a contentious issue for the social media giant, which denied the practice until 2014, but now it has at least conceded some ground to critics. Others might argue it should be opt-in, but this is at least progress.
This is not to say Facebook will stop collecting information on where else you go on the internet, but if you opt-out, you won’t be included in any advertiser’s targeting through the platform. Facebook will still collect and store the information, but it will be anonymised and only used for analytical purposes. If you choose to request to have your personal information deleted, it won’t happen immediately. Facebook has stated it will be deleted within 90 days, which doesn’t sound promising, but there are no time limits as it stands.
Cashing in on the online dating craze
Broadcasting whether you’re in a relationship or single has been one of the long-standing features of Facebook, pretty much since its inception, but now it is actually going to do something with that information.
Alongside data privacy plans, Zuckerberg also used the stage at F8 to announce a new dating platform for Facebook. This seems like a logical step for the social media giant, it is after all used to authenticate users on third-party dating apps such as Tinder or Bumble. The data collected from any dating application will sit separately from the rest of the platform, and the team has not detailed how it will monetize such a venture. It would be fair to assume it would be through advertising, as the pay-to-play model isn’t really in the Facebook DNA.
The platform will not necessarily attempt to partner you with people you already know, but work on various different other factors similar to apps which are on the market now, and does present the opportunity to normalize the idea further. While the stigma of online dating has largely been removed, there will still be those who do not trust the idea. Facebook could add credibility.
Facebook is going through a period of scrutiny and criticism at the moment, but it doesn’t seem to have had a massive impact just yet. People are still using Facebook and the #DeleteFacebook hashtag never had any material impact. People like to be enraged to give off the impression they are good people, but who realistically changed their lifestyle.
The online dating industry is worth in the region of $3 billion as it stands, though Facebook could accelerate this figure. And it does appear investors believe so as well. Following the announcement, share price in future competitor Match Group, which owns OkCupid, PlentyOfFish and Tinder, plunged 23% before recovering slightly in overnight trading.
VR actually becomes affordable for mass market?
Virtual reality is an area which has been closely watched by Facebook for some time now, though it might have just released a product which can take the segment to the next level.
Oculus Go is now available in 23 countries, starting at $199 for 32 GB of storage and rising to $249 for the 64 GB model. While this would still be deemed expensive, it is getting to the levels which most would consider affordable. This has been the problem for VR to date; it is simply inaccessible to the mass market, finding home for niche gaming communities and commercial applications. Could this be a game-changer?
Two questions remain. Firstly, can the same, premium experience be delivered for this price? And secondly, will there be the ecosystem to support the hardware.
Looking at the specs, a 538ppi 2560 x 1440 WQHD, fast-switch LCD display sounds promising, while the team has also been working with partners like Xiaomi and Qualcomm to optimize performance. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 chip will be paired with Facebook’s automatic Dynamic Throttling feature to improve energy efficiency for smoother frame rates, while a built-in lithium ion battery will power about two hours for games and up to 2.5 hours for streaming media and video. The specs are promising.
On the content side, Facebook has said it has more than 1,000 titles to choose including Jurassic World: Blue, MasterWorks: Journey Through History and Space Explorers. The key here will be providing enough content to lure users away from traditional screens, but also to manage the quality of the content. Facebook needs to make the Quality Controller role its own here if VR is going to be a new avenue of profit.
New tools for businesses
In terms of diversification success stories, Facebook has done well to engage the commercial world. While it might not look like much from the surface, creating a platform where all businesses, not just those in the FMCG world, can meaningfully engage consumers was a successful move. Part of this was creating a successful platform for customer services, which has most recently manifested itself in the form of bots.
Facebook has said there are now 300,000 bots on the platform, sending 8 million messages a day. Adoption of the technology should be considered successful, now the Messenger platform is due for another makeover, this time with AR on the mind.
Though it is still in private beta mode, the Camera Effects Platform can now be integrated into Messenger, allowing companies to prompt users into using various filters on their devices. For the shopping experience, this is a great move forward, potentially removing a buyers nervousness at not being able to visualise products. AR is still in the early days, but this is one of the more common usecases discussed over the years.
Amazon has written to Signal threatening to kick the secure messaging app off its CloudFront web service unless it stops anti-censorship practice known as domain-fronting.
The technique has been used by the secure messaging app for the last couple of years as a means to combat censorship and government assaults on free of speech in countries such as Egypt, Oman, Qatar, and UAE. Known as domain-fronting, developers disguise web traffic to look like it’s coming from a different source, which provides a useful work-around for censorship.
Following Google’s lead, which claimed domain-fronting was simply a quirk in the software stack not an official feature or service, Amazon has also decided to pan the technique. In an email to Moxie Marlinspike, founder of Signal developer Open Whisper Systems, Amazon stated the app had two choices; drop domain-fronting, or get kicked off the service. As it stands, Marlinspike and Signal users will have to accept the censored fate for the foreseeable future.
“We are considering ideas for a more robust system, but these ecosystem changes have happened very suddenly,” said Marlinspike. “Our team is only a few people, and developing new techniques will take time. Moreover, if recent changes by large cloud providers indicate a commitment to providing network-level visibility into the final destination of encrypted traffic flows, then the range of potential solutions becomes severely limited.
“In the meantime, the censors in these countries will have (at least temporarily) achieved their goals. Sadly, they didn’t have to do anything but wait.”
In terms of how domain-fronting works, it’s all about hiding where the connection from an app comes from. Below we have copied Marlinspike’s explanation:
The theory here is that while a government might look to ban Signal it wouldn’t consider blocking the tech giants. In the beginning, Signal was using domain-fronting through the Google Apps Engine, meaning should a government want to ban Signal, it would have to ban all traffic coming from ‘Google.com’. Signal does not use Google services anymore, owing to Google’s interpretations of US trade sanctions, but Amazon has a similar work around.
One of the issues here is Marlinspike’s claim that domain-fronting does not violate the terms of service set forward by Amazon, therefore Signal is acting completely compliantly. Marlinspike has pointed to two reasons:
The CloudFront distribution isn’t using the SSL certificate of any domain but Signal’s
The company isn’t falsifying the origin of traffic when clients connect to CloudFront
Marlinspike might be correct, but these are loopholes. The service was not intended to be used in this manner, therefore Marlinspike is simply taking advantage of an oversight. As in the Google case, Amazon is simply making alterations to remove an unintended use of its assets.
There has been little reaction from the ecosystem thus far, though following Google’s decision to remove domain-fronting there was certainly backlash.
“As a repository and organizer of the world’s information, Google sees the power of access to knowledge. Likewise, the company understands the many ingenious ways that people evade censors by piggybacking on its networks and services,” said Peter Micek, General Counsel at Access Now. “There’s no ignorance excuse here: Google knows this block will levy immediate, adverse effects on human rights defenders, journalists, and others struggling to reach the open internet.
“To issue this decision with a shrug of the shoulders, disclaiming responsibility, damages the company’s reputation and further fragments trust online broadly, for the foreseeable future.”
As with many of the tech firms, there is a balance to be made at Amazon. Ideals and principles need to be weighed up against the commercial nature of the digital economy, with features such as domain-fronting having a direct or indirect impacts on different cogs in the profit-making machine. It looks like cash won this time around.
After years of trying (and failing) to create its own messaging platform to compete with the OTTs, Google has herded together Android device manufacturers to create a new carrier-based service: Chat.
The idea here is simple. According to The Verge, Google will attempt to create a new messaging platform by evolving the already existing Android Messages, incorporating now common features such as read receipts, typing indicators, full-resolution images and video, and groups, based on a standard called the ‘Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services’. Google tried to compete with the likes of WhatsApp and Telegram with an OTT service, but now it has given up. And to be honest, improving the current messaging default on Android devices is a pretty sound idea.
What is worth noting is that this will not be a Google service, though the internet giant will take credit for harmonising the ecosystem. Strategically this is a very important development for the firm, it was one of the more vocal contributors to the new standard, as it looks to retain the strangle hold on the communications world. The key world here is harmonization, as this is the very reason OTT messaging platforms took off.
RCS was supposed to be the successor to SMS, though due to the inability of carriers or handset manufacturers to create compatible services based on the ‘standard’ it was a disaster. SMS was terrible, and the industry couldn’t come together to create an agreed path forward. The door was opened for the OTTs to offer a service which was designed with everyone in mind. With Chat, Google is seemingly hoping to correct mistakes of the past by creating a messaging platform which actually works for every Android user.
This is a modernization of the messaging service which is already on many Android devices as the default. Not only will it look like a modern messaging service, but messages will also be sent with your data plan. It puts the service in-line with the more popular platforms on the market, though end-to-end encryption will not be a feature. This might be a bit of an own-goal by Google, as recent events have shown the world is sensitive to privacy and security.
Whether Google is able to wrestle users away from the popular WhatsApp platform remains to be seen, though this is an announcement which is long overdue. Android Messages looks like a service which was designed for feature phones and no-one at Google could be bothered to update it. It’s boring, slow, clunky, uncreative and limited. When you look at how messaging platforms have evolved over the last couple of years, Android Messages reminds you of the sports superstar from school, who peaked at 16 and is attempting to live off past glories. It’s a bit sad more than anything else.
Alongside the introduction of now-common messaging features, Google will also introduce its virtual assistant to the platform and also GIF searches, explaining the acquisition of Tenor last month. GIFs are becoming an increasingly popular way to communicate, as younger generations continue to find new ways to avoid talking to each other. The company said it has more than 12 billion searches every month, which is likely to increase.
Despite the popularity of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, you have to remember Android Messages is a default service on the vast majority of Android devices in the market. It is a constant for Android users and presents a very useful opportunity for Google to regain control of the messaging world. The opportunity to be relevant has always been there, so we are quite surprised it has taken the internet giant this long to do anything about it. Why did it spend so much time trying to create something new, when it could evolve?
Another interesting area to consider is that while the OTTs apps are incredibly popular, there are still users out there who use SMS. Anil Sabharwal, who will be heading up the area, estimates 8 trillion SMS messages are sent every day. This is still a massive user base to care for, but we wonder whether the majority of these are based in developing markets. Reconverting the digitally-evolved markets much be a tricky task. Google will also have to think of a way to convert iLifers onto the platform, otherwise it is unlikely to be more than a footnote on the continued dominance of WhatsApp.
Right now Android users have nothing to think about. There is no need to download new apps, the service will be turned on inside the current Messages app dependent on each carrier, which Google hopes will be by the end of the year.
France is reportedly considering building its own encrypted messaging platform to protect itself from espionage, completing the full U-turn from last year’s efforts to limit the encryption powers of messaging services.
According to Reuters, a spokesperson from the Digital Ministry confirmed 20 civil servants are testing a new, encrypted messaging app which has been designed by a state-owned developer. The aim will be for every government employee to use the platform by the summer.
This is certainly a change in opinion compared to last year. During August, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and German Federal Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière met to discuss how data protection laws could be altered to allow intelligence agencies greater insight into the lives of citizens. The idea would have been to build a back-door in the encryption software, which would allow spooks access and permanently weaken the security feature of the platforms.
It would appear that spying on its own citizens is perfectly acceptable, but the threat of President Emmanuel Macron’s lunch order leaking to the Daily Mail is one step too far. We understand and accept certain aspects of government need to be kept under the strictest of confidence, but privacy is a right to European citizens, even from elected officials.
The ‘do what I say, not what I do’ attitude of governments around the world is starting to taste very bitter.
The French government version of an encrypted platform is based on opensource code found on the web, and could eventually be available for French citizens to use as well. What has not been confirmed is whether the encryption software has had a backdoor built into it, an objective for governments all around the work to improve snooping capabilities. If this was the case, it would surprise very few people, however it would also make the offering fundamentally flawed from the outset. A backdoor is a weakness in the security perimeter, which will eventually be found by hackers; nothing is 100% secure.
To date, French government employees have reportedly been using instant messaging applications from defence group and IT supplier Thales. Citadel instant messaging smartphone app is one offering listed on the website, though President Macron is supposedly a fan of the currently under-fire Telegram platform, which is facing a ban in Russia for refusing to hand over encryption keys to security services.
This is one example of a government which doesn’t like an idea until it benefits the bureaucratic machine. A government owned application will be designed with its own parameters and objectives in mind; this might be another way for intelligence agencies to poke their noses into places they are not wanted.
These agencies and governments have already proved incapable of cracking the encryption software of the likes of WhatsApp and Telegram, therefore a work-around would be required. Considering the scandal Facebook, owner of WhatsApp, is facing, this might prove to be a very good time to pry loyal users onto a platform with zero commercial interests and the promise of never being on your own.