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Google Hangouts encryption doesn’t offer you the privacy protection you thought

Published May 12th, 2015 6:50AM EDT
Google Hangouts Encryption Privacy Security

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Even though Hangouts is an encrypted Google service, it turns out that the user’s privacy isn’t as protected as initially believed. Police can still get access to what happens in the popular texting and video chatting tool that many Internet users including Android device owners access on a regular basis.

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Google Hangouts doesn’t have end-to-end encryption, though everything that’s sent through it is encrypted so you don’t necessarily have to worry about its security. However, as Motherboard reports, Google has never acknowledged this publicly until recently.

On Friday, during a Reddit AMA session with Richard Salgado, Google’s director for law enforcement and information security, and David Lieber, the senior privacy counsel, it became clear that Hangouts doesn’t have end-to-end encryption.

“Why has Google refused to be transparent about its ability to provide wiretaps for Hangouts?” American Civil Liberties Union’s Christopher Soghoian asked. “Given Google’s rather impressive track record regarding surveillance transparency, the total secrecy regarding the company’s surveillance capabilities for this product is quite unusual.”

But Salgado refused to really answer it, saying that Hangouts are encrypted “in transit” and that “there are legal authorities that allow government to wiretap communications.”

Google further confirmed to Motherboard that Hangouts doesn’t use end-to-end encryption. That means Google has full access to your chats, and can enable wiretapping for the government, if it receives such requests.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.