It has been more than a year since we heard of RCS, the replacement for SMS, but the use of next generation service is almost impossible due to the complicated policy of operators and phone manufacturers. But now, Google takes over: later this month, Android users in the UK and France will be able to choose to benefit from RCS Chat services provided directly by Google instead of waiting for their operator to take them in. charge.
This looks like another minor registration status on the service to replace SMS, but it's actually a huge policy change: when Google extends this offer to more countries, it should mean that RCS will become universally available to all. Android users.
For the first time in years, Google will directly offer a better default SMS experience to Android users instead of waiting for mobile operators to do so. It's not quite the Google equivalent of an iMessage service for Android users, but it's close. Not knowing when and if RCS Chat would be available for your phone was the second biggest problem of RCS, and Google is fixing it.
SCR the biggest The problem is that the messages are still not encrypted end-to-end. iMessage, WhatsApp and Signal are secure in this way, and even Facebook said that all of its applications would be encrypted by default. Google's chat solution is more and more atypical, even immoral.
But there is also hope on this front. Sanaz Ahari, director of product management overseeing Android messages, assured me that Google recognized the need for private discussion within RCS and was working on it. Here is his complete statement:
We fundamentally believe that communication, especially messaging, is highly personal and that users are entitled to the confidentiality of their communications. And we are fully committed to finding a solution for our users.
What this means for you should be simple: if you have an Android phone, the timing for when the RCS switch will be available has become shorter. Google announces that it will broadcast the services in a larger number of countries "throughout the year", but does not undertake to indicate that it will be available in all regions by the end of the year. However, as Ahari says, the goal is "a simple and great user experience that only works for every Android user".
As with everything about Google's messaging strategy in general, and particularly the Rich Communication Services (RCS), none of this happens with the speed or clarity that I would like. But that happens, finally, and there are a lot of details to deal with if you want to understand how it will work and what it means.
How will the Google Chat Chat Service work?
RCS is the next generation SMS protocol that most operators around the world have agreed to replace over time. It offers most of the features you expect from a modern email application, including read receipts, high quality attachments, and typing indicators (though, again, end-to-end encryption is insufficient). The Google Messages Android app calls RCS "Chat," a more friendly name for the service.
The process will be opt-in. When users open the Android Messages app, they see a prompt to switch to RCS Chat. This will also apply to new phones. RCS Chat will be in the default application and will be offered to all Android users, but for the moment, it is not planned to do so. the default. Apple automatically connects users to iMessage, but Google will require an active choice.
Ahari said that "a user must also know that Google provides the service … [from a] terms of service point of view. "
For most users, that's all you need to know:
- If you see the chat prompt, click Yes to enable Google's RCS services. Then, if you see "Chat" in the app, you are talking to someone else who has RCS.
- It is encrypted in transit, but it is not fully encrypted end-to-end. Your RCS provider can potentially see the content of your messages and deliver them to the government if they ask for them correctly. Google says that it will delete them from its servers as soon as they are delivered to your phone – see below.
- It will work with any other phone that supports the universal RCS profile, be it Google or the provider that provides the service.
- Finally, unless you are in the United Kingdom or France, there is no official calendar for when Google will activate the switch in your country.
But if you want to go deeper into these points, there are a ton of interesting and relevant technical details. A notable difference between RCS Chat and other chat applications: There is no database of who has it and who does not. When you send an iMessage, Apple uses a central database called "Apple Identity Service," which determines whether the person you contact also has iMessage.
This option is not available for RCS because it uses a "federated model" in which different operators are responsible for the servers that transmit messages to their users. This complicates things, but it is important that anything that replaces SMS is not controlled by just one company.
Since it can not rely on a central database, Android Messages sends a request directly on the other phone. Drew Rowny, Product Manager for Messages, tells me that when you open a text window in Android Messages, it sends an invisible message to everyone on this chat with an invisible message (much like a push notification) asking for it. it supports the RCS chat and Android messages respond silently. "Yes" if that's the case. These messages constitute a "capacity exchange" and Rowny calls this a "point-based" model, as opposed to the server-based Apple system for iMessage.
Since the phone itself is responsible for telling others that it has a conversation, it is always linked to a phone number. It also means that you will not be able to send messages to multiple devices at once, as iMessage allows. You can still use a web interface by scanning a QR code with your phone, but it still depends on your phone for sending and receiving.
The point-based model is important because it is also what allows Google to deploy this system without waiting for the operators' permission. RCS replaces SMS because the Android Messages application can simply tell other phones that it has chat features. According to Rowny, "From the point of view of the technical architecture, the more we are able to do at the application level, the easier it is".
Although RCS Chat is not (yet) encrypted end-to-end, there is at least a little good news in the way Google has implemented it. Rowny says the company does not keep any messages that pass through its servers. "From the point of view of data retention, we remove the message from our RCS back-end service as soon as we pass it on to an end-user," he says, adding that "if we keep it, it's is only to transmit it when this person connects. "
There is a minor caveat to this data retention. In a subsequent statement, a Google spokesman said: "The files (stickers, GIFs, photos, videos) contained in the messages could be kept for some time without user IDs after delivery, so ensure that all recipients can download the file ". metadata, which is often a loophole that is ignored in discussions about privacy. These should also be temporary: "We temporarily store metadata on the device, such as IMSI, phone number, vendor, and RCS client version, as well as timestamps for a limited time to provide the service.
If a carrier offers RCS directly, Google will let it manage your messages. So, if you're wondering about data retention rules, you'll need to determine if it's Google or your carrier that carries your messages. As for SMS, nothing prevents these operators to keep your messages and transmit them to governments who claim them. So, until RCS supports end-to-end encryption, the surest assumption is that someone else can read your messages.
Here's a last technical detail, as long as we're already in this rabbit hole: if you switch your SIM card to a phone that does not support chatting, Rowny says Google will not send black hole messages ". In other words, his system should recognize quite quickly that you can not receive conversation messages and automatically return to the SMS.
Of course, Apple did not specify whether it intended to support RCS on iPhone.
Our original video explaining RCS Chat of April 2018.
Why Google had to do it
So far, operators have been tasked with deciding whether to activate RCS – it's their service, not Google's. Google had made the decision not to replace and replace the default text messaging application by its own service and seemed to engage in it. Whether due to worries about worsening operator partners or simple product management is an issue that only Google executives can answer – although this answer is certainly a combination of both.
Unfortunately, and predictably, the SCR deployment has been terrible (especially in the United States). Although Google notes that RCS is present on "24 markets", that does not mean much because of the number of complications and warnings involved in obtaining service.
Even if your operator supports RCS, this does not mean that his chat messages will interact with other RCS users. Your operator must support the universal profile, but not all. And even then, it's not because an operator supports RCS that every Android phone in that network will get it because they've approved handsets one by one. For example, T-Mobile does not support RCS on Pixel 3A.
If you want to use iMessage, you buy an iPhone. If you want to use Signal or WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, you need to install the applications. If you want to use RCS, you have to wait to see if your operator plans to support it, wait for your operator to activate it, and hope your phone has had the chance to use it. And the same process applies to everyone you want to talk to. It's like Demogorgon's upside down version of the network effect. This is untenable.
It's also exactly the kind of mess we were all worried about when Google would talk to me about its plans for RCS Chat more than a year ago. "The experience is hard for users to understand," admits Ahari. "It's something that makes us suffer too." Last month, Google's Hiroshi Lockheimer said, "I'll be honest, and I talked about it for [carriers]I am a little frustrated by the pace. It must be better ", during The vergecast.
So, instead of having you wait for your operator to provide RCS services, Google will finally do it yourself.
This is the option I've always referred to: "Use all of iMessage" – just support text messages and recipients. Google does not go nuclear – it always accepts and operators can run their own RCS if they wish, but it's the most user-friendly thing to do and hopefully Google will soon deploy assistance in more countries.
What this means
If you are an Android user, these new RCS are a party reason. If you're worried about Google's market power, it's a concern.
Android uses about 75% of smartphones in the world, and using this domination to allow billions of people to switch from SMS to a service managed by Google is the kind of thing that should broaden the eyes of antitrust regulators. Google's RCS chat in Android messages will be another element of Google services and apps already reviewed in Europe.
In a sense, the incredibly complicated deployment of RCS over the past year could be Google's best defense against accusations of monopolistic practices. The argument would probably be this: Google does not control this standard, the GSMA carrier association does it, and all Google does is apply it. In addition, Google did its best to get the operators to do it themselves and they did not do it. In addition, if an operator wants to support the performance of RCS for its customers by Google, Google will gladly leave it.
It is also possible that Google will launch this process only in the UK and France as a kind of test balloon to see if regulators would buy any of the above arguments – or even they would be aware of it.
Ahari said Google wanted to "start with a smaller set of markets, just to make sure we have the right experiences. [for customers]Added that Google "also strives to join the ecosystem." Ahari points out that many operators have asked Google to provide this service.
In fact, Ahari came back to the idea that Google "collaborates well with the ecosystem" a few times in our conversation. In a subsequent statement, a Google representative reiterated that Google would be "flexible based on the needs of operators." In other words: in the event of rejection by operators or regulators, Google operators are ready to take their call.
If deployment continues and continues around the world (except, of course, in China), Google will also take a huge responsibility. When I asked how he intended, you know, Pay for all this, Ahari's answer was twofold. First, "Monetizing these messages is not an immediate priority for us." According to Google, messaging is a basic feature of the phone and it's too important to stay in the mess it is in, no matter what. the cost.
The second part, of course, is the real answer: Google does not charge users, but can charge companies that want to use the RCS chat to communicate with customers. "This is an area in which it is possible to provide a better experience," says Ahari, "and given that [SMS] is monetized today, we know that as long as it creates value for businesses, there is value to create. "
If it looks like Google is showing you ads, it's not supposed to. It's just about charging Google companies that want to use RCS to provide customer service. A spokesperson pointed out that users had to sign up to communicate with businesses and, more importantly, that "Google does not access messages intended for advertising or other services. Google. "
The fact that Google finally takes responsibility for repairing the SCN deployment is encouraging. It took a while to deal with potential carrier anger and a greater likelihood of antitrust investigations. It will take more for the next step: end-to-end encryption.
Technically, nothing in the RCS specification would prevent the installation of end-to-end encryption. Google should simply get the GSMA's agreement on a standard to add to the Universal Profile (the specification that allows the interoperability of RCS services). It's easier said than done, but again, it's technically possible. However, it is not just carriers: many governments would be unhappy to see the default texting method applied to 75% of phones in the world "get darker," as the FBI says.
I can not tell you if Google has the courage – or the courage – to encrypt encrypted RCS. I can only tell you that it should.