What Google Allo and End-to-End Encryption Mean to Educators

Allo, Google’s answer to Apple’s iMessage, will be released any day now. The tech world is excited about the new features and tools to communicate, and many people are equally excited about the app’s end-to-end encryption.

End-to-end encryption made the headlines as a controversial factor in the San Bernardino shooting tragedy. However, most people might not be aware of how end-to-end encryption can affect the average person. End-to-end encryption is already present in messaging apps like iMessage, WhatsApp and Signal, and it could very well be present by default in all future personal communication. Even Facebook is in the early stages of adding end-to-end encryption options to its popular Messenger service.

Situations involving law enforcement and encryption do not always revolve around national headline cases and Supreme Court rulings. In fact, encryption can be part of a case involving anything from statutory rape to extortion.

So, what exactly is end-to-end encryption? End-to-end encryption uses “keys” on both the sender’s and receiver’s device and cannot be unlocked by any party in between. Essentially, it’s a deposit bag in which the only parties able to open the bag and access the money are the business and the bank, both of which have a key. The person transporting the bag does not have a key and is unable to open the bag.

Encryption has pros and cons, although these may be entirely dependent on users and their intent.

For adults who want to have private, legal conversations, encryption is an excellent feature. Users can communicate with the assurance the conversation is private and that their other friends, superintendent, cell phone provider or government can’t read the message. Being able to have a conversation that remains private forever is a reasonable expectation for every citizen.

Unfortunately, the same technology that gives law-abiding citizens the ability to have totally private conversations could aid child predators and criminals.  

Imagine a scenario where a child predator finds a minor on a social network and coerces them into moving the conversation somewhere else. If these two people are using an app with end-to-end encryption, such as iMessage or Google Allo, the entirety of the text message evidence against this child predator is dependent on those messages not being deleted from the users’ devices. Predators in theses situations know that they have encryption on their side. They might even encourage the victim to delete text messages knowing that it was the last trace of information in the interaction.

The best advice to educators and parents regarding students using apps with end-to-end encryption is the same as other social networking apps and any communication online. The only way to ensure a student’s safety is to keep their use of these apps entirely transparent and to teach them about digital citizenship. Students should be aware of the dangers with any messaging application and understand that interactions should always be something they wouldn’t be afraid to show a parent or teacher.

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