If you’re on iOS, you likely use Facetime for video chats and iMessage for more casual text-based back-and-forth talks. If you use Android, Hangouts likely handles the same workload, but maybe not in the same way. While Apple’s chat services use end-to-end encryption, it’s now been discovered Google doesn’t subscribe to that school of thought. In a recent Reddit AMA, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) employee prompted a Googler to disclose just how secure Hangouts is. Spoiler: it isn’t very secure.
The line of questioning from the lawyer involved wiretapping, a common practice for government officials who want or need info on your dealings.
Christopher Soghoian, principle technologist for the ACLU, asked Google’s director for law enforcement and information security Richard Salgado why Google wasn’t more clear about the ability to wiretap Hangouts.
Salgado dodged the question, saying “there are legal authorities that allow the government to wiretap communications.” He also said Hangouts chats were encrypted “in transit”.
Seeking clarification, Motherboard turned to Google. According to them, a Google spokesperson confirmed Hangouts does not use an end-to-end encryption.
That makes wiretapping entirely possible, even if you’re using Google’s ‘off the record’ feature (which just prevents the chat from appearing in your records, i.e. the chat is left out of your chat history).
In their recent transparency report, Google said they received 7 wiretap requests for the first half of 2014. We don’t know how many of those were for Hangouts, though.