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It will initially only be available in one-on-one chats.

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Angela Lang/CNET

Google on Thursday said it will add a major privacy feature to its Android messaging app to make texting more secure. The search giant is testing end-to-end encryption, which safeguards messages so they can’t be read by Google or other third parties as the content is sent from one phone to another. 

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Last year, Google revamped text messaging on Android phones, adding modern features like read receipts and typing indicators. The update was made possible by a technology called RCS, or Rich Communication Services, meant to replace SMS, a stalwart but tired protocol that’s more than 25 years old. Google on Thursday said it’s completed its rollout of RCS globally.

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When Google launched the RCS update last year though, end-to-end encryption was notably missing. The feature has become a privacy standard in messaging apps, including Apple’s iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. At the time, Google called it a “fairly complicated topic,” and said there are “technical complexities.”

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Now Google is slowly bringing the feature to its Android Messages app. It will initially only be available in one-on-one chats, not group threads. End-to-end encryption will be turned on automatically if both users have enabled RCS features on their phones. Google will begin testing the privacy feature this month and continue rolling it out into next year.

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The launch of end-to-end encryption is an important addition to texting on Android, the most popular mobile operating system on the planet. Almost nine out of every 10 smartphones shipped run on the software. 

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The strength of Android’s services is also important to Google’s overall business because the operating system serves as a gateway to the company’s other services, like search and maps. 

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