WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger will soon be unified.
Plans are afoot to integrate Facebook’s messaging services — WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger, allowing the 2.6 billion users across these platforms to communicate across them seamlessly. The apps will continue to operate individually, but their underlying technical infrastructure will be unified, bringing together three of the world’s largest messaging networks.
This move will redefine how billions of people use these apps to connect. It will also add power to how Facebook controls data on users, raising antitrust, privacy and security questions. The whole process will be done by late 2019 or early 2020. The three apps will all incorporate end-to-end encryption in a process that will protect the confidentiality of the messages. This will be a massive effort, necessitating thousands of Facebook employees to reconfigure the way these three collaboration apps function at their most basic levels.
This is seen by many as a move by Mark Zuckerberg to increase Facebook’s utility and keep users highly engaged inside while within the company’s ecosystem, buying their loyalties. More frequent interaction with Facebook’s apps might also add to its advertising business or add new revenue-generating services, the people said.
In the recent past, Facebook and its Founder have been publicly criticized for spreading of disinformation. Made to appear before lawmakers and senior government representatives, Mr. Zuckerberg has repeatedly apologized for the problems and has vowed to fix them. This is a step in that direction it would seem, except that it goes completely contrary to his earlier stance of the individuality of Instagram and WhatsApp- the two apps he had acquired but had said he would leave them autonomous. But with these two prodigal children rowing very well, this integration was the next logical step to further Facebook’s market interests. “He now believes integrating the services more tightly will benefit Facebook’s entire “family of apps” in the long term by making them more useful,” sources have been quoted as saying.
This plan has been brewing for a while now, and the way the founders of the two independent apps have quit the scene has not been pretty. Instagram’s founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, left the company abruptly last year after Mr. Zuckerberg started putting in pressure, and the same way, WhatsApp’s founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, left. In fact, when Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014, Mr. Koum talked publicly about user privacy, and said, “If partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn’t have done it.”
The biggest fallout of this integration is the clear privacy issues because now, users’ data can be used across all three platforms, seamlessly. Since WhatsApp requires only a phone number to sign up, but FB messenger and Instagram need true identities, the unification of their backend might give some users worrisome thoughts. But the only motive being reported is to increase the engagement of FB users. But there is the little matter of making more money with more data available.
For Facebook, the move also offers avenues for making money from Instagram and WhatsApp. While none of these apps currently generate significant revenue, with this integration that will drive higher engagement levels, certainly a business plan can be put in place –a new form of advertising or other services for which Facebook could charge a fee. It could be a free Craigslist-like product -Facebook Marketplace, a where people can buy and sell goods, which is currently popular in Southeast Asia and other markets outside the United States. With this unification, Facebook Marketplace buyers and sellers in Southeast Asia will be able to communicate with one another using WhatsApp, eventually yielding new ad opportunities or profit-generating services.
This unification, however, will create technical challenges. Among the three, WhatsApp is the only one with end-to-end encryption by default. Encrypted messaging has long been supported by privacy advocates who fear governments or hackers may gain access to people’s personal messages. But it will raise other issues for Facebook, particularly related to its ability to spot and curb the spread of illicit activity or disinformation.