It was rolled out with little fanfare, but a new feature in the Google Hangouts messaging app should make users happy. The app will now support peer-to-peer (p2p) connections, a new wrinkle that Google said will improve call quality and speed.
Word emerged over the weekend that the upgrade had been added, and Google confirmed the update to media outlets today. A Reddit user first discovered the new functionality in the Android version of the app. The p2p technology will be available with the next update of Hangouts. Both parties on a call will have to have the new feature enabled for it to work.
Audio and video in Google Hangouts will be routed to a peer-to-peer connection when possible, Google said. The company added that Hangouts is getting peer-to-peer functionality on all its platforms, including Android, iOS, and Web connections.
A peer-to-peer connection allows a call to be routed directly to the recipient of the call. Services such as Skype rely on peer-to-peer connections. Adding the functionality to Hangouts is expected to ease the strain on Google’s servers, which previously handled all Hangouts traffic.
Users have expressed frustration with the quality of calls made via Hangouts, saying they’re prone to interruptions, bad reception and other problems, which makes the upgrade welcome news.
One problem with peer-to-peer communications is that they can potentially expose the IP addresses of the people using them. Skype users have complained of harassment and denial-of-service attacks because their IP addresses were visible during calls, something Skype stopped enabling recently.
Some early reports of the new p2p capability with Google Hangouts indicated that the service wouldn’t expose the IP numbers of the parties on a call. But according to a note on Google’s Hangouts help page, "A direct peer-to-peer connection between you and the other person reveals both your IP addresses. With an IP address, it’s possible to approximate your location."
However, an IP address will not be exposed by default during Google Hangouts calls; it can only be uncovered if one party has the skills to find it.
Google has encouraged mobile users to use Hangouts for text messaging, file sharing and similar tasks rather than relying on preloaded apps such as the Messenger app that comes with Android devices. But last month Google embedded some notifications encouraging users to use SMS applications for the Android OS instead of Hangouts. That led to speculation that Google was about to cancel development on Hangouts.
The Hangouts communication platform was developed by Google in 2013. It took the place of a trio of previous Google messaging products: Google Talk, Google Plus Messenger (formerly Huddle), and a video chat system that existed within Google Plus. In current versions of Android, Hangouts is the default app for text messaging functions. Google Hangouts has attracted about 5 million installs.
Image Credit: Google Hangouts screenshot via Google.
Posted: 2016-02-09 @ 11:24pm PT
For random chatting that does not contain any sensitive information, Hangouts is the godsend. I hear people complain, but I love it.
Yes to Threema or Signal for secure chat.
What Google needs to do is create a "Night Mode" like Threema. Hangouts is too damn bright and that in itself decreases battery life... "blackle" it Google!
Posted: 2016-02-09 @ 3:12am PT
If Hangouts would offer encryption (in a serious way, as messengers like Signal and Threema do), this would be a nice feature. But I don't like handing out my user data to Google. Sorry, no.