Facebook is planning to integrate its three instant messaging apps, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram’s direct message function, it has been revealed. The plans come from Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, himself, The New York Times reports.
The three apps have, historically-speaking, targeted different audiences, had different uses, and different structures. Zuckerberg even insisted when Facebook first acquired them that Instagram and WhatsApp would have a certain amount of autonomy from their new owners. Lately, certain functions have begun to appear in all three of them – Instagram stories and Facebook stories for example, and the equivalent WhatsApp status – but the underlying structure of the apps has remained different and distinct. Not for long, apparently. The change is expected between the end of the year and the beginning of the next.
Zuckerberg has said that while the three apps will continue to be standalone and separate, their technical infrastructure will be the same. This change will also allow users to message each other from any of the three apps without having to switch platform.
This move requires that every communication will be end-to-end encrypted, visible only to the users and no-one else. Currently, only WhatsApp provides that as a default option. Facebook messenger allows encryption only in secret conversations, which can be accessed from the app, but it’s not the default. Instagram doesn’t have anything like it. So, this is good news for privacy but only if it is done properly. And given Facebook’s track record, people have every right to be skeptical.
“[T]his move could potentially be good or bad for security/privacy,” Matthew Green, associate professor of Computer Science at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute said in a Twitter thread about the plans. “But given recent history and financial motivations of Facebook, I wouldn’t bet my lunch money on “good”. Now is a great time to start moving important conversations off those services.”
There is also the matter of different registration requirements when it comes to different apps. You need your Facebook identity for messenger, an email for Instagram, and your phone number for WhatsApp. There are clear concerns how the metadata from the future interactions between users across the platform will be used by Facebook. Some people might not want to have their identities across these platforms unified and would rather opt out. It is unclear at this time what guarantees will be put in place to address these concerns.
This close integration is a significant U-turn on the way the three platforms have been run until today and many speculate it is part of the reason why both Instagram and WhatsApp’s founders stepped down from their board positions at Facebook last year.