Facebook has no plans to bring its three messaging platforms Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram together until at least 2020, according to recently reported statements from CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The statement all but confirms that the previously unconfirmed project is underway but Mr. Zuckerberg indicates that it is still in its earliest stages.
The executive went further to state that the company isn’t certain to what extent it even plans to bring the three services together. So, not only is the social media company is still wrestling with some implied characteristics of such a merger. There are likely still further considerations that haven’t begun to be touched on by employees working on the project.
Mr. Zuckerberg also offered some insight into why the company believes the combined service will be beneficial to users, comparing a combined Facebook-owned messaging system to iMessage. In particular, the company says the merged system could incorporate a layer for SMS messaging that adds security and features. That would put an end to the need for Facebook users to navigate between the separate apps for different tasks.
Why this is still a scary prospect
One key aspect of a combined messenger from Facebook instead of three separate services, according to earlier reports is end-to-end encryption. In effect, end-to-end encryption protects user messages against being read outside actors and, in theory, the company itself. It’s a feature that already exists in WhatsApp by default and Facebook Messenger as an option.
Instagram would be encrypted too in a joint service, bringing at least some level of security to the app.
The differences in encryption are just a portion of the many characteristics that set the applications apart. While there are other differentiators, having encryption across all three compounds the workload for Facebook. It also means there are more similarities between the apps, making maintaining all three a more arduous task for the company.
Reduced redundancy and convenience are areas where combining the apps makes plenty of sense but there’s still reason to give pause.
With consideration for Facebook’s many scandals over the past several months, there are differences in how the platforms are maintained and in what types of assurances users are offered in terms of data collection, advertising, and privacy.
The most recent outcry about the social network offers a stark highlight of where relatively well-placed concerns might exist. Earlier this week, Facebook was called out by lawmakers and others after it was discovered to have been paying users of a ‘research’ application to collect and use their data.
Users weren’t given full disclosure of that fact and the app was, in fact, a rebranded piece of software that had previously been banned for disguising itself as a VPN and collecting that data anyway. A VPN is typically engineered to act as a buffer between a user and the internet in general, making that type of activity more difficult.
The fact that the app posed as a VPN and collected user data deliberately will almost certainly cause some alarm since it could be viewed as having some parallels with an ‘end-to-end encrypted’ messaging platform from the same company. Simultaneously, Facebook would be effectively doing away with at least one brand that has a long-held reputation for being mostly trustworthy in its encryption and user privacy policies.
Concerns will only seem more justified if the messaging platform relies on advertising in any way.
Slow but steady wins the privacy-violation race
Details on the combined messaging service are, as a result of how early into the project the company actually is, very slim. That shouldn’t be too shocking since Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram are effectively the three largest messaging services currently available.
There are a lot of features to consider in terms of what should be kept or how they could be integrated into a single application. Each will likely be incorporated into Messenger itself rather than starting with a new application from scratch and that platform wasn’t necessarily designed to handle all of WhatsApp or Instagram’s features.