Apple’s Texting Bubble Bias: Why Green Bubbles Are a Security Threat

Greysen Paige
6 min readOct 28, 2023

The first thing anyone notices when they’re on an iPhone and text someone with an Android phone is the harsh green bubble. But does anyone really care about the color of a text bubble? After all, on Android, your text bubbles change color depending on the colors of your wallpaper for a cool complementary color effect everywhere.

Surprisingly to anyone over 30, many people care about the color of the bubbles, primarily young people.

The importance of this declines steadily depending on the age group asked (although I feel the issues facing young people because of this should be taken up as a cause worthy of fighting by those of us at any age.)

But the color of the bubbles isn’t the real issue. It’s everything the green bubbles represent, and not in a philosophical way. The real issue is one we all have been frustrated by and one of security and privacy. We’ll get to those important points, but first, we need to address the lowest-hanging fruit.

Why do teens really care about the color of a bubble?

Teens frequently report high rates of bullying and ostracizing when they are the green bubble kid. The green bubble isn’t just a color. It means you alone could ruin the ability of everyone else to have a real-time iMessage group chat. In an iMessage group, you can choose to leave a group chat. It’s encrypted for security, and many flourishes make it feel instant and alive.

A single “green bubble” participant makes all of those things disappear… for everyone.

To make matters worse, these green bubbles signify to iPhone users that their messages are being sent over the 30-year-old SMS (short message service) texting and MMS (multimedia message service) picture messaging systems. Good luck sending more than 1 or 2 photos, and you’ll never be able to share a video without it looking like a thumbnail you can barely make out anything in.

The worst part is when you’re using SMS/MMS, it is one of the least secure ways to communicate.

Messages sent over SMS/MMS pass from your phone to your carrier, then onto at least one 3rd party interchange company (that have previously been hacked and known to sell data to data brokers), and unlike encrypted 🔒 services like iMessage, WhatsApp, and Signal, etc, anything you text is visible to these companies, and therefore anyone who hacks them.

Do you want your texts to be sold to a data broker?

The assumption by iPhone users is that this is the dangerous life that all Android users live, but that's a misconception. The Google Pixel line of phones holds the same highest-possible rating for privacy and security as the iPhone. So why the misconception? And who is at fault?

First, the misconception comes from the fact that when iPhone users communicate with Android users, they have no choice but to use green bubble texts, or they have to use a 3rd party app like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. (For those who won’t use Meta/Facebook products, that feels like an impossible task if you are trying to avoid green bubbles too.) So, from an iPhone user's viewpoint, Android users have no other choice.

What iPhone users often miss is that every other phone in the world is using what amounts to a universal iMessage-like messaging system that Apple could effortlessly build into the iPhone, bridging the gap for all messaging users globally. But they don’t.

A few notes on the brilliance and massive feature list of Google Messages. Not only does it offer all the features you love about iMessage, but it also includes that critically important encryption 🔒 for your messages, plus it can send full-size images and videos. It also does dozens of things iMessage can’t.

(For example, if a set of photos or videos is too big to send, instead of it looking terrible, it will automatically upload it to Google Photos and send the recipient a link to view and download them in full quality, all without any work by the sender.)

Just hit send, and it does the rest.

Along with all of the things you love and expect from iMessage, it can also do all of these things you see above and dozens more that stay entirely out of your way until you need them. Helpful little things, like a little cake icon next to someone’s photo in the conversation list on their birthday.

“So you want Apple to use Google Messages? Good luck.”

Actually, (and luckily) no, not at all. That would never happen. These features remain exclusive to Google-powered phones. But, the important part, the real-time messaging built into Google messages, which acts like a universal iMessage, is built on a public protocol called “RCS” or “Rich Communication Services.”

RCS replaces the 30-year-old SMS and MMS.

RCS offers end-to-end encryption 🔒 meaning it’s totally secure, and your texts and content can’t be seen by anyone but sender and receiver. RCS shows typing indicators, delivered/read receipts (if turned on), and offers the sending/receiving of full-quality photos and videos. Everything we’ve all come to rely on in our own ecosystems.

RCS for iPhones could be built on Apple’s servers and effortlessly link up and communicate with Google’s servers when communicating with Google-powered phones.

By considering this a “silly issue” about the color of bubbles or as “something only Android people deal with”, Apple continues to leave every iPhone user and every Android user who interacts with an iPhone user vulnerable and insecure. Every person on every kind of phone should be pressuring Apple to adopt RCS.

After all, there are 3.6 billion active Android phone users worldwide, more than twice the 1.46 billion active iPhone users as of October 2023.

Apple is in the minority of users, but their lack of support for RCS is violating and undermining their own privacy and security stance they work so hard to convince everyone of and typically do a good job of delivering on.

Do you want us all to have a better security and messaging experience? Tell Apple! That’s the only way we’ll get RCS support for everyone.

Provide your feedback at Apple.com/Feedback, and if you feel strongly about it, send Apple CEO Tim Cook an email. He’s previously joked and sneered about supporting RCS, telling someone who asked to “Buy his Mom an iPhone.” Not only did I find this reductive and degrading to the person asking, but it shows that we need to put pressure on Apple to get what is best for all of us.

Get more information about this at Android.com/GetTheMessage.

Samsung recently joined the fight with a cute marketing campaign inspired by Romeo & Juliet, saying, “Green and Blue bubbles want to be together.”

So I’m asking you to join the fight, too.

Call out iPhone users when they quip about Green bubbles like they’re the fault of anything but their own phone, and get them to become a part of the solution as well. Share the “Get The Message” link whenever someone mentions green or blue bubbles.

RCS for all. It’s the only way forward.

--

--

Greysen Paige

He/Him 🔵 • Executive @ Firebrand 💼 • Formerly @ Apple📱 & Google 🔎 • Eco-Warrior 🌍 • LGBTQIA+ 🏳️‍🌈 •