HomeNewsPrivacy Nightmare Unfolds: Nothing Chats Faces Unprecedented Backlash

Privacy Nightmare Unfolds: Nothing Chats Faces Unprecedented Backlash

Nothing Chats, the iMessage on Android experiment couldn’t even last a week. Here’s what happened.

Nothing Chats was a messaging that promised to let users communicate with users using the blue bubbles of iMessage. The app was launched as a beta version on November 17, 2023, exclusively for the Nothing Phone (2), a flagship smartphone by Nothing, a tech company founded by former OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei. However, the app was removed from the Google in less than a week amid reports of several bugs and privacy concerns. What went wrong with the app, and what really happened? Here’s a complete overview.

How did Nothing Chats work?

Nothing Chats was powered by Sunbird, a messaging hub that bridges iOS and Android. Sunbird claims to use a patented process that natively creates or validates an Apple ID on the Apple ecosystem and then assigns it to one of its own Mac mini computers.

These Mac minis then act as a waypoint for iMessages sent through the app, making them appear to be coming from an Apple device instead of an Android device. In other words, the messages you send via the Nothing Chats app are basically relayed via the Mac OS-powered computers.

By logging into the Nothing Chats app with an Apple ID username and password, users could access some of the features of iMessage, such as blue bubbles (as they appear on iOS devices when chatting with an iMessage user), live typing indicators, high-res pictures and videos, read and delivery receipts, and group messaging. However, some features, such as message reactions and editing, were claimed to be in the works.

Why was Nothing Chats pulled down from the Play Store?

Days later, Nothing posted on X stating that it had pulled down the Nothing Chats app from Play Store due to “several bugs” and it will be working with Sunbird to fix them. However, there’s another side to this story. The removal came after users widely shared a blog from Texts.com which showed that messages sent with Sunbird’s system aren’t actually end-to-end encrypted. Moreover, it was easy to crack the app’s security protocols, which may lead to unauthorised access to a user’s data.

9to5Google also cited a thread from site author Dylan Roussel, who found that Sunbird was decrypting and transmitting messages using HTTP to a Firebase cloud-syncing server and storing them there in unencrypted plain text. With proof, Roussel went on to claim that the company indeed has access to messages because it logs them as errors using Sentry, a debugging service.

This directly contradicted Nothing’s claim that once the relay has been created, it cannot be accessed by Sunbird or anyone, even if it has physical access to the server. Nothing even said that the encrypted data doesn’t contain any sensitive information in plaintext so your Apple ID remains secure. Even Sunbird claims on its website that its service is end-to-end encrypted. However, the proofs shared online suggest otherwise.

While Nothing didn’t acknowledge these privacy issues as is, they called it ‘several bugs’ that need to be resolved. The brand is facing much criticism on social media from fans and tech enthusiasts alike.

What’s the way forward?

Nothing Chats was an attempt to bypass Apple’s restrictions and offer Android users a way to communicate with iOS users using the blue bubbles of iMessage. However, if you have the app installed, we would suggest you to refrain from using it in its current state. Even if you have Sunbird installed, we would recommend that you stop using it right away, at least until the company gives a clarification on the whole situation and proves its claims.

There’s also no word on when or if the Nothing Chats app will make a return. We currently do not know whether Sunbird lied to the UK-based manufacturer. Even if it did, Nothing had to be more responsible while making the project public, considering it is an emerging brand that is still building trust amongst its growing set of customers.

Whatever the case may be, the only reason behind Nothing Chats existence that’s left would be the ability to show blue bubbles even when sending a message from Android. Otherwise, Apple has already confirmed that it will be adopting the RCS messaging standard next year, which will significantly elevate the whole experience of cross-platform texting between Android and iOS. This also reduces one major reason behind why Nothing Chats should exist, further putting a nail in its coffin.

Given the paramount importance of privacy in today’s world, a project like Nothing Chats, which involves a user’s personal information and texts, should undergo a thorough examination for any major errors such as the one it is currently facing.

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