Mar 14th, 2017

While we’re all just annoyed that Allo still doesn’t have SMS, Google could have bigger problems with the app brewing. Recode sheds some light on a potential privacy issue with Allo as it pertains to its Google Assistant integration.

The red flag comes from scenarios where you and a friend are chatting and you summon the Assistant to help you with something. Tess Townsend writes about a scary situation where he asked Assistant “what is my job?” and the Assistant simply replied with an image of a Google Maps location where he used to work.

The problem is that Allo typically asks your permission to share private info when called upon, but this time it not only didn’t ask permission, but it seemingly went beyond the scope that the writer intended by sharing hard details such as a location map instead of, say, the name of the business. Granted, someone could probably find the business on a map with just the name, but what if there are multiple locations?

Another incident where a friend asked the Google Assistant to identify him as a bot, the Assistant turned up a search result related to what the friend searched some years back. These sort of whacky responses tend to happen with AI bots, so we’re not surprised it gets caught up on certain quirky requests and queries every now and then, but how is one to know when one of these fringe requests will immediately deliver a personal result that you didn’t intend?

This obviously wouldn’t be too big an issue were Assistant contained inside your own bubble, but now that you can rope it into your conversations on Allo it’s definitely a scary thought. Has Assistant ever done or said something in one of your Allo conversations that made you uneasy?

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