Announced in Google I/O earlier this year, the Allo chat app is finally on devices across the world. Google’s latest Instant Messaging app is fundamentally different in that it employs Google Assistant, an artificial intelligence chatbot to humanise google searches and perform simple tasks automatically.
To begin with, once installed, Allo uses your phone number to get things started. It requires permission to access your contacts, and shows up names of people in your phonebook who are already on the app. It also requires permission to access your microphone, for voice commands and messages, camera and photo library. The app also takes permission to access the device’s location to give you search results that are geo-aware.
The thing that will blow your mind is how Google has humanised the act of searching for information and performing simple tasks using Allo. You can get entertained, get told a joke, recited a poem, served rich google search results, news, weather and sports information, all within Allo. That is the power of bots powered by Artificial Intelligence.
Google Assistant feels like an all-knowing virtual friend, always on tap, eager to offer relevant information from the wealth of Google’s data mining and machine learning resources.
Within a couple of minutes of using the app, I made a plan with a colleague to watch the movie Pink and found out about show timings, all without even leaving the chat window. This richness and access to information without ever leaving the app is fundamental to the design of Allo. Google wants to lock you in on one app and use more and more of its core products without ever feeling the need to leave the chat app.
But in exchange for that, it gains access to your personal information. And a lot of security advocates are protesting online about Google’s dilution on its original stance on making Allo a safe and secure app. Yes, the messages exchanged are encrypted on google servers, but El Goog will also make the chats or any other relevant information available to government or law enforcement agencies if requested by them. None other than popular whistle-blower and security evangelist Edward Snowden has expressed his displeasure with the app on Twitter.
When asked about users’ privacy concerns about Allo, a Google India spokeperson had this to say.
We’ve given users transparency and control over their data in Google Allo. And our approach is simple – your chat history is saved for you until you choose to delete it. You can delete single messages or entire conversations in Allo. We also built Incognito mode directly into the product, giving users control if they want their messages to be end-to-end encrypted, and you can set a timer to automatically delete messages on your device, and the recipient’s, at a set time.-Google India Spokesperson
While Allo’s future and consumer adoption hangs in the battle between cool new futuristic innovation vs privacy concerns, Google has packaged an AI-backed future in this nifty little chat app.