Starring isn’t the only big Messages update reaching Android users. 9to5Google reports that Google has begun rolling out end-to-end encrypted chats for all Messages users on Android after a months-long beta test.
Encrypted messages are limited to one-on-one conversations between people with Chat features and data enabled. It won’t work for plain SMS (which doesn’t support encryption) or group chats. You can use encryption in the web version, however, and the protection is automatic — you can’t turn it off.
The advantage, as with other end-to-end encrypted apps, is the increased privacy for your messages and images. Google relies on the Signal Protocol to generate secure key numbers for each message that are only present on the devices involved in a conversation. Attackers can’t easily intercept your chats, in other words. You can also share a verification code with your chat partner to prove that it’s really you.
The Messages addition could be crucial to competing with Apple’s iMessage by combining encrypted security with an automatic, seamless experience. At the same time, it could make Google’s app an easier alternative for those who don’t want to (or can’t) install secure third-party apps like Signal, Telegram, or WhatsApp. So long as you have an updated version of Messages, you’ll always have a privacy-conscious chat option on your phone.