Facebook to integrate Messenger with WhatsApp, Instagram

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Facebook plans to integrate Messenger with WhatsApp and Instagram's messaging services.
Facebook plans to integrate Messenger with WhatsApp and Instagram's messaging services.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to integrate the messaging services of WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger, according to The New York Times.

The US newspaper reports the services will continue to operate as standalone apps, but their underlying technical infrastructure will be unified, according to people involved in the effort.

This will bring together three of the world's largest messaging networks, which have a total of around 2.6 billion users between them, and will allow users to communicate across the platforms for the first time.

The plan is reportedly to incorporate end-to-end encryption into all of the messaging services.

Facebook said in a statement it is "working on making more of our messaging products end-to-end encrypted and considering ways to make it easier to reach friends and family across networks".

A Facebook spokesperson told AFP there is a lot of discussion and debate as the social network begins "the long process of figuring out all the details of how this will work".

At the moment, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger all run as separate, competing products. Integrating the messaging parts might actually help simplify things for Facebook which would not need to develop competing versions of new features, like Stories.

The news has, however, raised anti-trust, privacy and security questions as Facebook still battles bad public sentiment following a scandal-ridden 2018.According to Reuters, integrating the messaging services could make it harder for anti-trust regulators to break up Facebook by undoing its acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram.

Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion. WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook for $22 billion in 2014.

Combining the messaging functions on the apps is a departure from Zuckerberg's previous stance toward WhatsApp and Instagram, which at the time of the acquisitions he promised to give plenty of autonomy. The New York Times claimed Zuckerberg's plan to connect the messaging system had caused "internal strife", which was part of the reason the founders of both Instagram and WhatsApp have left the company.

Last year, Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger resigned as chief executive officer and chief technical officer of the photo-sharing app, saying they planned to take time off and explore "our curiosity and creativity again". This came just months after the exit of Jan Koum, co-founder of WhatsApp, while other co-founder Brian Acton left WhatsApp in September 2017.

The integration plan also raises privacy questions because of how users' data may be shared between the different services. WhatsApp currently requires only a phone number when new users sign up, but Facebook and Facebook Messenger ask users to provide more information.

The integration plan is still in the early stages, but is reportedly to be completed by the end of this year or early 2020. The New York Times said that by stitching the apps' infrastructure together, Zuckerberg hopes to increase Facebook's utility and keep users engaged inside the company's ecosystem.

This could reduce people's appetite for rival messaging services, like those offered by Google and Apple. The move may also enable the company to increase its advertising business or add new revenue-generating services. WhatsApp currently generates little revenue while Instagram does produce ad revenue, but none from its messaging service.

Earlier this month, Facebook promised stronger controls in 2019 after it faced a number of issues in 2018, including data privacy scandals, election interference and issues with the spreading of fake news.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
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