Google, Carriers Seek to Supplant SMS, MMS with RCS

RCS artwork

Last fall Google acquired Jibe Mobile, a startup working on a new messaging standard for carriers called Rich Communications Services, or RCS. The fruits of that acquisition was seen this week at Mobile World Congress, in an announcement that Google was working with the GSM Association and a host of carriers worldwide to accelerate the adoption of this new standard.

Unfortunately the news comes amidst a continuing stand-off between Apple and the FBI. With user privacy on everyone’s minds, it’s been revealed that RCS has some big issues when it comes to security.

According to Wikipedia, RCS has the following key features:

  1. Calls: enables multimedia content sharing during a voice call, video calling and screen sharing.
  2. Messaging: enables a large variety of messaging options including chat, emoticons, location and file sharing.
  3. Phone book: service capabilities and enhanced contacts information such as presence and service discovery.

The carriers who have already signed on to bring RCS to their customers include América Móvil, Bharti Airtel Ltd, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Globe Telecom, KPN, Millicom, MTN, Orange, PLAY, Smart Communications, Sprint, Telenor Group, TeliaSonera, Telstra, TIM, Turkcell, VimpelCom and Vodafone.

Why would Google care about a new carrier-level messaging standard? Likely because it wants to win users back from the likes of Facebook and WhatsApp. The idea is that eventually some sort of RCS client will be available on any device without having to deal with a separate app or login—just like the SMS/MMS client you have on your phone right now.

But therein lies the problem… If a messaging platform is interoperable between carriers then it’s only as secure as its weakest partner. Even worse, RCS seems to have been developed with surveillance in mind. The GSMA’s technical specifications for the standard suggests that it should be built to “allow compliance with legal interception procedures.”

The NSA should be thrilled.

Sources: TechCrunch, GSMA, Wikipedia, Re/code

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