We may soon live in a world where large messaging platforms will be able to seamlessly communicate with each other. Google is taking the first step into this new world, announcing this week it will support the Message Layer Security (MLS) standard with plans to incorporate the protocol into its Messages app.
As Google points out in its Security Blog announcement, one of the annoyances concerning messaging apps is the lack of interoperability. Each platform has differing opinions on what they consider to be robust end-to-end encryption for texts. Developers don’t want to lower their “security standards to cater for the lowest common denominator and raise implementation costs”. If they did, the result would be, as Google puts it, “a spaghetti of ad hoc middleware” potentially endangering user information. MLS, however, aims to be a universal standard for everyone. It could be the solution these tech companies need.
Google claims MLS “enables practical interoperability across services and platforms”. It goes on to say the protocol is “flexible enough… to address emerging threats to… [user] security”. Imagine being able to contact someone on WhatsApp and then shooting a text over to a friend on Telegram right from your messaging app of choice. You won’t need five different apps on your smartphone to stay in contact with people and you won't have to worry about a lack of security.
As stated earlier, Google Messages will one day support the new encryption protocol. In addition to the update, the company will open-source its MLS implementation into the “Android codebase.” This could result in developers having an easier time incorporating MLS into their software – if they choose to adopt it, of course. Right now, Google is the only brand that we’re aware of announcing its support. Mozilla has posted a sort-of rallying cry to its blog calling MLS an “internet standard”, but it doesn’t appear the Firefox developer plans on adding it to its browser.
Cost of doing business
There is one line in the post that we found particularly interesting. Google says it is “strongly supportive of regulatory efforts [requiring] interoperability for large end-to-end messaging platforms.” As 9To5Google points out in their report, this could be a reference to the Digital Markets Act, a law passed by the European Union last year demanding tech corporations increase the “level of interoperability between messaging services” among other things. And if they don’t comply, the violators “could be fined up to 20 percent" of global revenue for repeated offenses.
Google is willing to play by the new rules. It’s even willing to help other Android devs by open-sourcing its future MLS code. But what about Apple? Will iMessage support the protocol?
Honestly, who knows? We doubt Apple will ever want to play nice with others. It has repeatedly rebuffed Google’s advances to put RCS (Rich Communication Services) on iOS. It’s even willing to “pull iMessage from UK iPhones rather than weaken its security”. Sure, the massive EU fine could change Apple's mind or it might simply accept it as a cost of doing business in Europe.
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Cesar Cadenas has been writing about the tech industry for several years now specializing in consumer electronics, entertainment devices, Windows, and the gaming industry. But he’s also passionate about smartphones, GPUs, and cybersecurity.