CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg’s dream of uniting communities may soon make a major leap forward with the plan to merge underlying technical infrastructure of Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger. Experts say the move, which is likely to go live before the end of 2019 or early 2020, could trigger a fresh round of scrutiny on the social media giant.
The New York Times citing four sources close to the plan, reports that the Facebook CEO who has faced backlash from regulators and the public over alleged data privacy breaches, wants to bring together three of the world’s largest messaging platforms, allowing people to communicate across the platforms for the first time.
Monthly active users on WhatsApp grew by 1.5 billion as of December 2017; Instagram hit 1 billion monthly active users in June 2018 while Facebook had 2.27 billion monthly active users as of the last quarter of December, making the three largest messaging networks in the world.
According to the Times report, the services will continue to operate as stand-alone apps, but their underlying technical infrastructure will be unified. This requires thousands of Facebook employees to reconfigure how the three messaging platforms function at their most basic. Zuckerberg also wants the apps to incorporate end-to-end encryption in order to protect messages from being viewed by anyone except the participants in a conversation.
The goal for Facebook is to make it easier for people to communicate across its “ecosystem” of app.
It should also be noted that moving to a unified structure gives Facebook enormous leverage to gather more data on their users as they browse through the various apps. In one sense it is a win for Facebook and its advertisers who allocate billions of advertising money to the company. This will rejig the revenue of the social network which has been buffeted by negative investors’ sentiments.
In another sense it could give competition and privacy regulators one more arsenal to come after the big social network. European regulators for instance could begin to ask Facebook tougher questions regarding privacy. The company has been hacked before, hence, will the new platform impose default end-to-end encryption for all users regardless of which service they are using? This will at least require the re-engineering completely all three messaging services from the ground up.
An analyst at Bloomberg has also suggested it could be an inconvenience for users. The argument is that Facebook requires people to use their real names in their social-network profiles, but Instagram does not. Users on WhatsApp sign up using their phone numbers rather than names.
“It isn’t trivial to connect a single person and her Facebook account to an Instagram profile under a pseudonym, and a WhatsApp account with just a phone number,” the analyst noted. “But unifying people’s identities online and in the real world is a big help to Facebook’s advertising business at a time when it needs a lift.”
It is not clear whether WhatsApp will ultimately require users to part with their real identities. Should it be the case, it could be a major turn off for millions of users on the app. Recall that the founders of WhatsApp and Instagram quit the company over their objections to tighter centralised control.
However, with the planned merger, it becomes very unlikely to attempt a spinoff of the three entities, at least for the nearest future.