A revelation regarding the privacy of Google Hangouts was made during a recent Reddit AMA. A member of the ACLU recently used the AMA to grill Google regarding the privacy of their popular Hangouts app.
Mark Ahn is aware that Google’s documentation for the Hangouts app clearly states that your information will be secure through encryption. It was revealed during the AMA that the encryption only exists between Google and the computer accessing the Hangouts service. This means that your Hangouts are unencrypted when they get to Google’s server. This makes it possible for Google to access your private hangouts information.
If Google can access your private Hangouts data then so can authorities. Even if you use “off the record” mode your Hangouts are still stored somewhere on Google servers unencrypted. Any time a government entity wants to check up on you all they have to do is ask.
Just because your Hangouts can be wiretapped doesn’t mean they are. It’s actually very rare for Google to receive any requests for private user information. In transparency documentation Google revealed less than two dozen requests in 2013. However, it isn’t documented what the requests were actually for or why.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding online privacy. While the government may have access to your information it’s still extremely difficult for them to sort through all of the information they receive. You’re unlikely to be targeted for a wiretap unless you’re a terrorist or pedophile.