Facebook’s tentacles are starting to look more and more alike.
A new report from the New York Times says that Facebook is integrating all of its messaging platforms — Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp — into the same infrastructure. The services would remain distinct, but the back-end connections between the three apps would grow into one master messaging platform.
It would also add end-to-end encryption to all of the services — something that is already standard on WhatsApp — which would mean increased privacy and security for DMs over Instagram and Facebook Messenger.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is reportedly behind the initiative, pushing for deeper messaging services integrations both technically, and with the functioning of the companies. Zuckerberg reportedly promised Instagram and WhatsApp relative autonomy when Facebook acquired the services. But more control over the companies from Facebook and Zuckerberg himself reportedly led to the departure of the original leaders of both WhatsApp and Instagram.
Facebook did not deny the report, and told the Times that it wants to “build the best messaging experiences we can; and people want messaging to be fast, simple, reliable and private.” The project is reportedly already underway, and it hopes to complete the integration by 2020.
Facebook has a business interest to connect these networks. The popularity of Facebook has waned, particularly among younger users, but Instagram is still a cherished social network. WhatsApp continues to grow and is a popular messaging application internationally. By knitting all of the services together, Facebook may be able to better reach, analyze, and advertise to its entire audience at once.
But the move also raises questions about what this means for users. In contrast to Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram users aren’t required to use real names. So if a WhatsApp user doesn’t have a Facebook account, will their real identity be automatically generated in Facebook’s backend? We already know that Facebook essentially keeps user profiles on non-users (called Shadow Profiles). Does this messaging integration take that ability a step further?
— Vindu Goel (@vindugoel) January 25, 2019
Further, the scrutiny of Facebook as a monopoly has grown in recent months; there have been an increase in calls to “break up Facebook.” It’s not clear how technically making all of Facebook’s companies into one messaging behemoth would affect that debate. But it could add to the argument that Facebook runs one integrated product — not that it has monopolistic control over distinct competitors.
The initiative has reportedly sparked backlash, particularly at WhatsApp. Employees aren’t sure what’s behind Mark Zuckerberg’s insistence in the project. But apparently, the engineers are giving this one a thumbs down.