Skip to main content

Sunbird — the sketchy iMessage for Android app — just shut down

Sunbird messages app for Android
Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

What was supposed to be an iMessage redeemer for Android smartphone users has quickly been consumed in a chaos of security and utter negligence. Merely days after the Nothing Chats app was removed from the Play Store, the tech at its foundation provided by Sunbird is also taking an unspecified leave, intensifying suspicions of something being seriously wrong.

Sunbird appeared on our radar late last year, promising blue bubbles for Android-to-iPhone messages. It also promised to bundle all messaging apps into a single cluster, somewhat like Beeper. Nothing adopted the Sunbird tech, bundled it into its own app for the Nothing Phone 2, and launched it with an ambitious video. “Sorry, Tim.” That’s the message Nothing CEO Carl Pei sent.

Bring on the blue bubbles.

We believe in windows, not walls. If messaging services are dividing phone users, then we want to break those barriers down.

So… we've developed iMessage compatibility for your Phone (2).

— Nothing (@nothing) November 14, 2023

Over the weekend, I noticed that the Sunbird app’s Google Play Store listing returned a blank page. I originally thought it was unavailable due to some geographic restrictions. The company made no public announcement regarding the same, except notifying members in the Sunbird Discord channel.

“We have temporarily shut down the Sunbird app while we do a detailed security analysis,” the alert said, adding that the company will offer further details when it identifies the “exact occurrences.”

Interestingly, the revelation was first made in the dev-announcements channel of Sunbird’s Discord network. “In an abundance of caution and to protect your confidential data, we are shutting down Sunbird temporarily,” it said.

What I can’t wrap my head around is why it took a day to drop the same information in the public channel. And above all, why did Sunbird fail to make an announcement on its active Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) handles?

In a message that appeared today in the public Discord channel, Sunbird only said “lots going on” but didn’t provide any further technical details or progress on risk mitigations. “We have decided to pause Sunbird usage for now while we investigate security concerns,” says the message.

Digital Trends has reached out to Sunbird’s technical lead, Garin, for more information and will update this story as soon as they respond.

Sunbird only started notifying users via an in-app message. Earlier today, 9to5Google spotted in-app notifications from Sunbird users posted on Reddit, notifying them that the app was temporarily put on hold. It’s the same message that was first shared in the Discord community.

The security risks

The Nothing Chats splash page in the app.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Security specialists at Texts found that the messaging app Nothing Chats was not employing HTTPS security protocols for its messages. Instead, it used the less secure HTTP standard, transmitting messages in unencrypted, plain text. If history has taught us anything about digital security, plain text is bad news.

A separate investigation revealed that all types of communication through Nothing Chats — including text, images, and other media — were sent in this unsecured, easily visible format. Additionally, it was uncovered that all messages sent and stored on Nothing Chats were unencrypted and hosted on a readily accessible Firebase platform.

Further findings showed that after users authenticate using JSON Web Tokens (JWT), which are not secure during transmission, they gain access to Nothing Chat’s Firebase database. This access allows them to view other users’ messages and files, which are sent and stored in real time and in plain text.

Nothing Chats on a Nothing Phone 2 compared with iMessage on an iPhone 15 Pro Max.
iMessage on an iPhone 15 Pro Max (left) and Nothing Chats on a Nothing Phone 2 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

All of this rings giant security alarms about the Sunbird (and the Nothings Chats) app. It’s especially worrying when it asks for your Apple ID credentials, the magic token that links everything from your emails and personal photos to your banking details.

It would be interesting to see where Nothing and Sunbird go from here. But with Apple embracing RCS and filling the feature gulf for Android-iPhone messaging, I don’t think it would be worth risking your privacy and data security for a hack that gives you blue chat bubbles.

Editors' Recommendations

Nadeem Sarwar
Nadeem is a tech journalist who started reading about cool smartphone tech out of curiosity and soon started writing…
I love Apple, but it’s totally wrong about iMessage and RCS
An iPhone 15 Pro showing the main iMessage screen.

I’ve been using an iPhone ever since 2008, starting with the original and then every generation since. For several years, the iPhone was only capable of SMS texting, with MMS support arriving with iOS 3 in 2009.

But in 2011, Apple created something new: iMessage. It first arrived on iOS and then went to the Mac in 2012 to replace iChat. iMessage is basically an instant messaging service that is exclusive to all Apple products: iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac. You can send text, images and video, documents, rich preview links, stickers, and more between one another. You can also see if a message is delivered, send read receipts (if you want), and everything is encrypted. With iOS 16, you can even edit and unsend messages within a certain time frame.

Read more
I turned my iPhone into one of 2023’s coolest Android phones
iPhone 15 Pro in Casetify Nothing Case (left) and a Nothing Phone 2 side-by-side.

It feels like the smartphone market has plateaued in terms of design. With the exception of folding phones and flip phones, pretty much all handsets today are glass and metal slabs. And to top it off, most smartphones come in the most drab and boring colors possible.

That’s why the Nothing Phone 2 is one of the most interesting smartphones out there in terms of design and aesthetics. It features a transparent glass back that lets you see its internal components, and there are even LED lights that serve multiple purposes. The Nothing Phone is completely unique and stands out from a sea of otherwise boring phone designs, and it feels really special because of that.

Read more
4 things Android phones still do better than the iPhone 15
Clockwise from top: natural titanium iPhone 15 Pro, Nothing Phone 2, green iPhone 15, and Obsidian Black Google Pixel Fold.

The Apple iPhone 15 lineup is here, which includes the iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Plus, iPhone 15 Pro, and iPhone 15 Pro Max. The Dynamic Island and USB-C are now available across the lineup, the standard models get a big camera boost to 48MP, the Pros get the new Action button, and the Pro Max even has a fancy new tetraprism telephoto lens for 5x optical zoom.

While all of this sounds impressive, Apple’s iPhone lineup is still behind the competition. Android phones have had some of these features for a while now — and even do some things a lot better.
Faster USB-C charging

Read more