As reported by the New York Times, Facebook is planning to integrate its three messaging services – Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp – by early 2020. During a Q4 2018 Earnings Call, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors that “safety and security, data privacy and digital well-being” were “some of the biggest social issues” that the company planned to address over the coming year.
Once the merger is complete, the three services will remain as stand-alone apps but users of one service will be able to message users on a different service without having to change apps. For example, a Messenger user will be able to message someone who only has a WhatsApp account, something that is currently impossible as the apps don’t share a unified core.
According to the BBC, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is believed to have made the merger one of his personal projects and this may have been part of the reason why the founders of both WhatsApp and Instagram left Facebook last year.
Why is Facebook planning to merge its messaging services?
In an official statement, Facebook revealed that the reason for the proposed merger is to enable them to "build the best messaging experiences” that are “fast, simple, reliable and private". They plan to make more of their “messaging products end-to-end encrypted,” wrote the company. The merger will make the trinity of messaging apps more useful and increase the amount of time that people spend on them.
According to Makena Kelly, writing for The Verge, Facebook’s merger will also help it compete more effectively with Apple’s iMessage and Google’s messaging services.
Industry insiders who spoke with the New York Times said that the two main reasons for the merger are user privacy and regulatory concerns.
The merger should increase user privacy
Still reeling from its recent data privacy scandal, Facebook is hoping that the merger will increase user privacy. At present, only WhatsApp users enjoy end-to-end encryption on their messages. Messenger users can get encryption, but it is turned off by default and must be manually enabled. The merger will give Instagram and Messenger users end-to-end encryption by default for the first time, something that should have broad appeal to users across the platforms.
While the merger could make it easier for Facebook to share data across the three platforms, and help its targeted advertising efforts, encrypted messengers will prevent the company from accessing or using the data in its user’s personal messages.
At present, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp are run as competing products with WhatsApp and Instagram operating as independent companies. Whenever Facebook rolls out a new feature, such as Stories, it tries to add the same feature to every app, often with inconsistent results.
Merging the three services could make their features more consistent, but it could also open up Facebook to further regulatory scrutiny. Facebook has already faced investigations over the way that it handles and safeguards user data. The UK's Information Commissioner has already conducted investigations into the way data is shared between Facebook and WhatsApp, for example.
According to insiders who spoke with the New York Times, long-term regulatory concerns could be behind the proposed merger. If the U.S. government and regulators decide to break up Facebook’s empire, they’ll have a far more difficult task if Facebook’s suite of apps is fully integrated.