Sunbird is bringing iMessage to Android all over again — and this time it pinky promises it's safe to use

Nothing Chats
(Image credit: Nothing)

Apple might be working to add RCS support to the iPhone later this year, but for those who really, really want to be able to use iMessage on an Android phone, things remain complicated. There have been multiple attempts to try and weasel a way into Apple's iMessage service and employ workarounds to allow it to be used via a third-party Android app over the years with some proving more successful than others. Sunbird is one company that tried and failed. But now it's trying again.

To say that Sunbird failed might not really be accurate, however. The Sunbird Messaging app did indeed work, and people were able to send and receive iMessages using their Android phones. There was even a deal to bake its service into Nothing phones via Nothing Chats, too. And yes, there was a cringeworthy video to support the news. But ultimately, the whole thing was a security and privacy farce and Sunbird's product was put on hiatus while the kinks were worked out.

Whether or not we actually expected that to happen, Sunbird is back. And this time it promises that it means business. "The past few months have been very sobering for the Sunbird team," the company says. So what's changed?

Addressing "green bubble bullying"

Sunbird announced its return via a press release that confirmed the arrival of a new beta app. "The relaunch is the culmination of comprehensive enhancements to Sunbird's backend infrastructure following an exhaustive evaluation," the release begins. And what an evaluation it must have been.

Shortly after Sunbird's Nothing Chats launch it was that messages were not end-to-end encrypted as was first claimed. And then 9to5Google found that more than 630,000 files that had been sent via Nothing Chats, just waiting to be perused. But don't worry, Sunbird has changed.

In a lengthy explanation of the situation on its website, Sunbird has detailed what it's been doing these last few months. It also confirmed the vulnerabilities that needed to be dealt with, including:

  • The use of the unencrypted HTTP protocol for an API call.
  • The storing of messages in an unencrypted state in a Firebase real-time store.
  • The possible accessibility of over 600,000 files, some of which were vCards, within the Firebase static file host.
  • The logging of messages by the front-end into a Sentry log.

What follows is an explanation of what has been done to ensure these issues have been dealt with, including the launch of a new architecture, dubbed AV2.

"With the adoption of AV2, we believe that we’ve not only resolved the security vulnerabilities previously identified, but also provided a secure and privacy oriented foundation for Sunbird’s iMessage integration moving forward," Sunbird says. Time will tell whether that claim is founded.

For now, Sunbird says that it started offering its services to people on August 5 and will continue to do so in small phases "as part of the company's strategy to ensure a smooth and scalable user onboarding process." The company can be sure that security researchers will be poring over its work to see if all of their issues have been addressed.

Sunbird will hope they have, if only because of what it seems to see as its calling to address the prevalent issue of "green bubble bullying." It says it'll do that by "enabling Android users to seamlessly participate in iMessage conversations" and helping to "reduce the social stigma associated with messaging platform disparities."

Hopefully, people won't have to choose between having a blue bubble and privacy.

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Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

  • Xijah
    Maybe just get an iPhone, it's not like the prices of certain android phone haven't surpassed the price of an iPhone now.