Nice hanging out with you, Hangouts

I began using Google Hangouts on my Android phone over a year ago. To me, it was the same as text-messaging, with the added benefit of having my conversations archived in Gmail. Since then, the app has evolved in a way that has me looking for an alternative.

A few months ago after an update, I tried to send a photo. I was told I had to have a Google Plus account to do so. Wait, I thought: to send a photo through a messaging app, I had to sign up for a different product? That’s like being told your toaster oven will only take bread, so if you want to reheat pizza, you’d have to buy a gas range.

Annoyed, but without a ready alternative, I signed up so I could send the photo through. Over the next few weeks, I was bombarded with Google Plus emails notifying me that people had added me to their Circles. Still, I lived with it because by now, I had begun to appreciate having conversations on my computer continue on my smartphone when I step away.

Then a few days ago, I received a photo in Hangouts that I wanted to save. When I long-tapped it, I was given two choices: Save media or View details. That seemed strange. Sure, I wanted to save the photo and I was given the option, but what if I had wanted to delete the photo? Curious, I asked my friend if she could delete her own photo; she couldn’t either. It turns out, photos you send through Hangouts are automatically added to an album on Google Plus. You’d have to go to Google Plus, find the photo in the album, and delete it there. It’s a five-step process, and it occurs inside an entirely different product than the one you’re using.

But deleting your photo in the Google Plus album doesn’t delete it from your Hangouts conversation. In other words, a photo sent through Hangouts is automatically stored in an album on Google Plus, but deleting that photo from Google Plus does not remove it from Hangouts.

After some investigation, I found three ways to delete a photo from a Hangouts conversation (after it has already been deleted from Google Plus):

  1. Delete the entire conversation
  2. Un-install and re-install the app
  3. Un-install updates to the app

The first option nullifies the benefit of message archiving, and the remaining options put unreasonable burden on the user, to say the least.

Also, they only apply to photos sent by you. Go to a Google Plus album associated with one of your Hangouts conversations, and you’ll see that you can’t delete any photo that was sent by the other person.

The entire experience has left me feeling like I have little control over the content I send, and no control at all over the content I receive. It’s an unsettling relationship, and it may be time to call it quits.