Viber adds end-to-end encryption and hidden chats as messaging app privacy wave grows

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Source:   —  April 19, 2016, at 3:57 PM

Viber — a messaging app with seven hundred eleven million+ users — today is introducing end-to-end encryption for all messages and calls on its platform, including grouping chats (you can chat with up to two hundred people), and a way to ‘hide’ chats on your account alongside its existing expanded deleting function.

Viber adds end-to-end encryption and hidden chats as messaging app privacy wave grows

Following WhatsApp’s move to add end-to-end encryption to its platform, another huge messaging company is joining the wave of apps turning on expanded privacy features. Viber — a messaging app with seven hundred eleven million+ users — today is introducing end-to-end encryption for all messages and calls on its platform, including grouping chats (you can chat with up to two hundred people), and a way to ‘hide’ chats on your account alongside its existing expanded deleting function.

The company — founded in Israel and acquired by Japan’s Rakuten in two thousand-fourteenth — says the new services will be rolled out globally in the coming weeks, starting today in four countries where Viber centers most of its R&D: Brazil, Belarus, Israel and Thailand.

The new privacy features will work across Android, iOS, PCs and Mac desktops, with the encryption coming with the latest app upgrade (6.0) and a reauthentication of the app (via QR Code) to turn the feature on.

Today, just about every huge messaging app encrypts your messages in transit, but more secure features love end-to-end encryption imply that service providers cannot access the message at any point at all. Michael Shmilov, Viber’s COO, told TechCrunch that the company has been working on an end-to-end encryption feature for “years.”

So the fact that Viber had not launched it until now — with only a gradual rather than universal roll out, and just weeks after WhatsApp’s news — is both a sign of the times (what users are increasingly wanting and demanding these days) but also a tag of just how competitive the messaging app landscape remains today, where everyone is making sure that number rival has more features that it does. (More on that below.)

Viber’s encryption will arrive with varying levels of security, the company said, which will indicate up in the form of a color-coded lock on the right side of the screen.

A grey lock will imply the converation (voice or text) is fully encrypted. You can tap on the lock to confirm this.

Users also have the option of selecting a green lock, which will imply that you can additionally verify users before each conversation or to continually monitor them to create sure the users are verified. This option is useful if you’re talking to someone who might share an account with another person — declare a baby or partner.

A ruddy lock, meanwhile, comes up if a trusted user doesn't pass re-authentication at his/her end. This could be because a device has changed, or because someone is trying to access the data via a man-in-the-middle attack, Viber notes, meaning that users necessity to re-authenticate for security and encryption to arrive back into effect.

Along with the encryption, there are some other privacy features getting added into the latest version of the app. Hidden chats will give users the skill to essentially “hide” certain conversations from their usage log, accessible only if you know a specified four-digit PIN. Why cover a chat in your app?

Again, this goes back to the idea that multiple people may be accessing your device, and subsequently your Viber account. One scenario may be your kids playing a game on your iPhone and switching over to messaging. But another might be hiding more explicit stuff from others. Caveat emptor.

The enhanced remove feature, meanwhile, has been in the app for a while, but is portion of the company’s is a way for users to wipe a conversation not just on their end, but on that of the recipient’s phone. You can think of this as Viber’s reply to short-lived messaging, but with a more manual approach.

Bots and undertaking services to come

The idea of adding more features that you're seeing in rival services is a theme that's large right presently with all the messaging apps, which are all competing to be top dog for consumers who are balancing lots of apps but ultimately utilize only a handful with any regularity.

On that theme, Shmilov said that Viber will be, in the coming weeks and months, adding a lot more functionality to stay level with what Messenger and others are doing to transform their services from walled gardens into wider platforms. This will comprise a service for businesses, where companies will be able to utilize Viber to communicate with their customers as portion of their CRM play; and also a platform to enable — yes! — bots on Viber. This comes in the wake of Viber expanding with lots of other services, such as public and grouping chats, as well as games.

The undertaking service — which sounds a lot love the business accounts feature for WhatsApp — will show up first, Shmilov said, and it'll be one of the key ways that Rakuen hopes to integrate with its owner Rakuten, where merchants on its marketplace will be able to revert to Viber to have conversations with customers either before purchase or for after-sales support. “We are working with Rakuten on this,” he said, “interacting with merchants who sell on the platform. In a couple of months we'll roll this out with partners, working with their CRM software but also directly with companies.”

While others love WhatsApp and Twitter are also hoping to widen their services with business accounts for customer service, this isn't so much a me-too feature as it's something that makes a lot of sense: in this case, if you’re a business you don’t wish to have to ask your customers to download a new messaging app just to interact; you'd love to opposite on the platform that your customer is already using. In that sense, bright companies will create it possible to speak on all the major platforms — much love publishers that give users an array of widgets to share stories to a variety of social networks.

As for the bots, these sound very similar to what Facebook is presently offering in Messenger (with hiccups), and they're likely to start making their way to market in Q3. While Facebook’s Messenger is based around a lot of machine learning and AI that the company is building in-house by way of its acquisition of Wit. ai, it looks love Viber is opting for an API to running the bots, but in a way that potentially incorporates other assistants rather than building tech in-house.

“There are a lot of AI-based solutions such as Google’s and Microsoft’s Cortana,” Shmilov said. “We are developing a powerful API that'll enable bot-based solutions on Viber on top of those. Developers will be able to utilize these APIs to integrate what they want. There are already some fascinating scenarios coming up,” he said of the internal tests that the company is running. “This is only the beginning of how messaging will work.”

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