It looks like Facebook is at it again.
Today, the New York Times reported that the social media giant would be integrating its three messaging services—Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct Messaging, and WhatsApp messaging.
The apps will all remain separate, but once the changes go into effect, users will be able to message others across platforms. But hold on, it’s not quite that simple. (It never is when it comes to Facebook, though. Is it?)
Developers will need to completely overhaul the underlying structure of the apps in order to unify the infrastructure and make them compatible. According to the report, the move has been met with internal criticism from Instagram and WhatsApp employees. While Facebook has long preached their dedication to keeping the apps independent, Mark Zuckerberg continues to clash with leaders from the other messaging services.
Prior to being acquired by Facebook, both Instagram and WhatsApp were independent companies. Instagram was acquired in 2012, and WhatsApp followed in 2014. Instagram’s founders stepped down late last year, reportedly irritated with Facebook’s influence over the direction of the platform.
WhatsApp’s co-founders, Brian Acton and Jan Koum, who left the company in 2017 and 2018 respectively, have also heavily criticized Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Acton even went so far as to tweet #deleteFacebook when details came to light. He later told Forbes, "I sold my users' privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day." (That sure sounds like seller's remorse to me.)
Although these new changes will likely not be completed until 2020, we’re already seeing growing push-back from the public and from internal Facebook employees.
Implications of Integrated Messaging Services
Okay, so, why does any of this matter? What’s the big deal? Well, this move could have some pretty big implications (both good and bad) for the messaging apps and their users:
There’s a reason why Zuckerberg is pushing hard for these changes to the messaging services. In defense of his position, he’s offered some explanation as to why this is the right move for the Facebook company:
The main appeal of these changes from a user perspective is that people will no longer need to coordinate across multiple platforms to reach all their contacts. Theoretically, they’ll be able to message a friend from WhatsApp, even if that friend has only a Facebook profile. For those users who are tired of switching between services to reach all their contacts, the change could be welcome news.
2. Stronger Encryption for Facebook and Instagram Users
WhatsApp currently offers end-to-end encryption through their messaging service, a feature that both Facebook and Instagram lack. To make the apps compatible for cross-platform communication, however, they’ll all need some changes to their basic structure, including message encryption. By adapting to allow end-to-end encryption, Instagram and Facebook messages will be better secured from hackers once these changes go into effect.
3. Zuckerberg Gets Richer
So, it’s pretty safe to assume that this is the main reason behind Zuckerberg’s interest in merging WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook messaging. By weaving the three services together, Zuckerberg will be able to unify the apps’ users. Right now, although both Instagram and WhatsApp have large numbers of users (Instagram boasts 1 billion users, and WhatsApp has 1.5 billion), neither app generates a lot of revenue.
However, engaging these audiences could allow Zuckerberg to expand advertising or other paid services. Although there aren’t any concrete plans in place for profiting from this integration, we can assume that they aren’t far off.
Now for the bad news. There will be a few losers in this game, with WhatsApp employees and their users speaking out against the proposed changes. However, they aren’t the only ones who have cause to be concerned:
1. Potential Loss of Anonymity and Privacy
One key advantage of using WhatsApp over other services is its privacy features. Unlike Facebook or Instagram, which require you to create an account to use their messaging services, WhatsApp just asks for your phone number.
This raises questions over how Facebook is planning to share data between its messaging services. Will users be asked to link their Facebook and Instagram accounts to WhatsApp? With people becoming more and more weary over Facebook’s apparent breach of personal privacy, these changes might create even greater mistrust.
2. Encroachment on Independence of WhatsApp and Instagram
Zuckerberg met with WhatsApp employees in early December to discuss the changes, but, according to the Times report, employees were largely unsatisfied with the answers Zuckerberg offered to their questions, calling them, “vague and meandering.” Many employees are still left wondering why exactly these changes are even necessary.
Early signs show that many employees will soon be leaving the company. This will likely lead to an overall brain-drain as experienced employees move on and new employees must be recruited and trained. So, I guess this is good news any job seekers out there interested in working for WhatsApp, but it’s bad news for everyone else.
3. Potential Violation of Anti-Trust Laws
Lawmakers in the European Union have scolded Zuckerberg in the past for Facebook’s apparent monopoly over messaging apps. At the time, Zuckerberg defended himself by saying that the average user has 8 social apps on their phone. Of those 8, Facebook controls only 3 (in addition to WhatsApp). He added that each of those apps operated independently.
Once these changes take effect, that will no longer be the case.
Anti-trust laws ensure that consumers have a choice over which product they choose and make it so that competing companies are able to enter the market. Basically, that’s bad news for smaller tech companies and consumers alike. (No competition=sub-par products.)
4. Growing Concerns that Platforms May be Used for Illicit Activity or to Spread Misinformation
While privacy advocates are in favor of stronger encryption, it’s likely that we’ll see push-back from Facebook critics who already fear that the platform makes it too easy to spread propaganda and facilitate illicit activities.
Ahead of last year’s Brazilian elections, false information ran rampant on WhatsApp, raising concerns over election tampering. Due to WhatsApp’s strong encryption technology, researchers struggled to identify the source and pattern of the disinformation campaigns. As a result, WhatsApp has recently limited the number of times a message can be forwarded in the effort to stem the spread of misinformation.
With the adoption of end-to-end encryption and connection of users across platforms, it’ll be even easier for trolls and foreign operatives to spread misinformation.
I guess 2020 will likely be another chaotic year for politics.
The Future of Facebook (And Instagram and WhatsApp)
Mark Zuckerberg lost 15 billion dollars in 2018, reducing his total net worth by around 1/4. (Don't worry, though, he's still filthy rich.) Could this be his way of trying to recover some of his lost fortune? Will it backfire? Although previously vowing to keep Instagram and WhatsApp independent, it's clear that Zuckerberg is now turning his sights to the successful apps as other potential goldmines waiting to be dug.
Only time will tell what comes of this latest push from the Facebook billionaire, but, as with everything involving Facebook these days, the results are sure to be controversial.
What do you think? Will these changes stop you from using Instagram or WhatsApp? What else do you think Facebook has in store for the apps? Comment below!
About the Author
Mike Speer is a digital marketing executive at Michaels Wilder. He is a social media expert with a flair for the creative side of marketing. Covering everything from social media news to entrepreneurship advice, he aims to create value for his readers that they can carry with them in their personal and professional lives.
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