Google announced late last year that the one feature that was missing from its latest iMessage alternative was coming soon. That’s end-to-end encryption, a privacy feature that ensures the messages exchanged in a chat app can’t be intercepted by third parties. iMessage comes with end-to-end encryption built-in, something Google took its time to roll out. Other instant messaging apps like Signal and WhatsApp have end-to-end encryption turned on by default, and Telegram supports the feature, but it must be enabled on a per chat basis.
End-to-end encryption is rolling out to RCS Messages users this summer, alongside all the other new Android features that Google announced earlier this week. But there are a few caveats users should understand, as not all messages exchanged through Google’s chat app will be encrypted end-to-end.
Users don’t have to do anything to enable end-to-end encryption on their phone. It’ll be there to use, but it only works as long as both persons engaged in the conversations use Google’s Messages app, and both persons have chat features enabled. Android users can select the default messaging app on their devices and choose an alternative to Messages.
Chat features are the features that turn the SMS messages into RCS messages. Aside from encryption, chat features will show you when the other person is typing, offer read receipts, and allow you to exchange files, photos, and other media. Also, RCS messages work over an internet connection.
To tell whether your text exchange with someone are end-to-end encryption, you’ll have to look for a lock icon next to the send icon, as seen in the image above. This signals that both people are using Google Messages, and the chat between them is protected with end-to-end encryption.
The same thing happens on iOS, although it’s a lot simpler to tell what’s happening when it comes to end-to-end encryption. That’s because you can’t choose a different chat app to handle SMS texting. If your bubbles are blue on iPhone, iPad, and Mac, then you’re sending encrypted iMessages. If they revert to green, then you’re using regular SMS texting that passes through your carrier’s network, and it’s not encrypted.
Google’s Messages encryption has one other problem. The end-to-end encryption “is available in one-on-one conversations between Messages users with chat features enabled.” That means any group chats you might be involved with do not get the same security and privacy feature. That’s not a limitation that iPhone, iPad and Mac users have to worry about when interacting in group chats via iMessage or group calls via FaceTime, as end-to-end encryption is always enabled.
Google’s new video below explains how end-to-end encryption works on Android devices.