The RCS Marketing machine
The last year Google has been slowly driving adoption for a new messaging system called RCS (Rich Communications Systems). It is advertised as a “Universal Upgrade to SMS/MMS” aiming to unify the messaging experience of the now fragmented market. RCS aims to improve the currently available SMS/MMS technology with modern features much like Facebook Messenger or What’sUp. Besides the big promises though Google plays a much different angle than it is initially apparent.
RCS promises to be decentralized though independent servers which any company can set up. Theoretically. Google though offers its own infrastructure, because it knows that most companies or carriers who want to use RCS will be using their servers for easy deployment. Like Telia Company did in Sweden at the beginning of the year and Sprint in the US earlier than that. So basically every time you send a message it will pass through Google’s servers, the carriers servers or both. That seems to be nowhere near the decentralization that Google claims. The way that Google proposes she and the Carriers manage 99% of the communication in the world. If stats are correct.
For the Carriers the benefits are easily apparent. More and more they have been losing power in the last decade to messaging services like Facebook Messenger and What’sUp. People are no longer tied to the price of SMS but instead can chat almost for free via Data Connection. This can now easily change since Google gives the power back to the Carrier by bringing the users back to their infrastructure. Price and information are once again on their hands.
Google on the other hand treats it the same way as gmail today. When we create an email account today it almost doesn’t matter with what service we create it because a very large percent of the emails we send will pass through gmail and by extension Google’s servers. That is exactly the kind of goal Google has here. There are so many carriers that it is hopeless to believe everyone will run their own server like Vodafone.
Predictably the RCS protocol doesn’t have any kind of encryption. I don’t think It is Google’s fault though. Take in mind that everything that follows is my personal opinion.
A protocol to work on such a massive scale it needs to satisfy all parties involved.
The one party is Google who wants data. Their entire business is built around that. RCS of course wasn’t developed because they are a charity and want nothing in return. They need profit and that is your personal data. So, already the protocol can’t have end-to-end encryption because the messages need to be unencrypted at Google servers for her to read them.
The second party are the Carriers. For a protocol to be supported on a network level you need their support. Their support is guaranteed in two ways. First they control the price of the message which they lost to other messaging services. Second, spoken or unspoken, they can deploy their own servers to read all the personal data once more.
The third party is the unspoken party. Any kind of project on that scale attracts the interest of governments, law enforcement, intelligence agencies etc. Technology like private cryptocurrencies, or messaging encryption gets banned or cooperates and hands over the personal data. Google either opted to do to not add encryption by themselves or was coerced to do so. I like to think that at least they said a reluctant no before agreeing to no encryption. In the end, without encryption man in the middle attacks will be trivial. So not only Google will be able to read your messages but also anyone willing to snoop on them while in transit. Law enforcement, the Carrier, or even hackers and advertisers.
The thing that is the most frightening though is something that is not so easily apparent.
Google plans to capitalize on the messages by providing analytics for Businesses. That work is made easier through the previously mentioned non-existent encryption. The lasting consequences of this practice are questionable by many but one thing that everybody can agree on is that it is a privacy concern. Building analytics right into the messages and having Google and anybody else who has access read all the messages, seems something that would frighten even the Apple users. Not mentioning the advertising that is sure to appear somewhere down the line.
The benefits for Google are obvious. More Data, more information from basically everyone who is not literate on technology and will use the app that they find pre-installed on their phone. Carriers obviously can and will sell the data that comes their way. Most US Carriers have been caught doing it in the past.
From there things get more complicated. Intelligence agencies and governments collecting data can be for “security” reasons as most people like to say nowadays. But let’s not delude ourselves with fairy tales. Yes, some crimes have been stopped this way but if only they stopped there. Situations like the recent policies about free speech at Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft show that they can and will control the way we communicate and express ourselves as long as we continue using centralized services. Non Existent Use Cases
But let’s talk about real world usage. Who is this service for? What is the possibility of adoption? In my opinion the adoption will be almost non-existent, for three reasons.
First it requires Data Connection. That may sound trivial since most people have already moved to using only Data. The people that still use SMS though, use it because it can be send with a simple GSM signal. Without the effort of finding good Data connection or the fear of losing battery due to the power hungry Data mode. They want to send simple text messages and nothing more. For those people the new technology is a step backwards to what they are used to.
Secondly the foundation of every successful messaging app is the number of users, the ecosystem. RCS and by extension SMS has no users. Everybody that wants to have a modern messaging experience has already moved on. Google’s messaging app doesn’t have the features for experienced users, the userbase for young users or the encryption for privacy conscious people.
Thirdly if it is meant to be a Universal solution then it needs to be supported by everyone. How can that be though if Apple has no incentive to support it or the carriers need to “upgrade” to new profiles.
Who cares about RCS
So if most people using a smartphone don’t care about RCS who does? First, businesses. Analytics, custom colors and interactive messages make a pretty good deal for mobile advertisement since they lose ground more and more on desktop nowadays.
Second, the Google fans. Google over the years has gathered many fans around the world for their technology innovation. Many people and businesses are deeply tied into their ecosystem so a solution for the long term problem of a Google-Android messaging client is certainly good news. If people adopt the client.
RCS seems to be Google’s last effort after many failed projects in the messaging space. Outside the US though I don’t think anybody will care and Google knows it. That is why she uses unethical ways to get there. People’s messages will be sent through multiple servers without their consent not even counting the advertisements and analytics. Personally I don’t see how RCS improves things for the users. Everyone else though is sure to benefit from the personal data gathered.