Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently announced plans to mergehis three dominant messaging services: Instagram, Facebook Messenger,and WhatsApp. The goal, according to Facebook, is to create a moreunified service across all three platforms.
“We want to build the best messaging experiences we can; and people want messaging to be fast, simple, reliable and private,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
With these services integrated, users will be able to easily messageone another from different apps. But while the merger may make theseservices more convenient, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be moresecure.
Encryption as an afterthought
The decision to merge these services has both lawmakers and privacyadvocates scratching their heads. Zuckerberg has already stated plans to make each of the three messaging apps encrypted, but the real questionis how.
WhatsApp was one of the first messaging services to offer end-to-endencryption, while Messenger offers customizable encryption features that need to be turned on manually. Instagram, however, offers no suchprotections (or options).
Will Instagram and Messenger be retooled to offer the same privacysettings as WhatsApp? Or will WhatsApp be downgraded with weakersecurity software to help it function like the other apps?
These are just a sample of the dozens of questions security experts are asking.
What’s more, how will the login details work? WhatsApp userscurrently need to only enter a valid phone number to use the app, butMessenger uses the information populated from Facebook—including yourfull name and email address.
Any move that attaches more personal information to individualaccounts could make WhatsApp less secure, which for most of its 1.5billion users could make a significant impact on how (or if) they decide to still use it.
A matter of convenience… or control?
Zuckerberg has already stated that the goal is to improvefunctionality across all three platforms, but that seems like adifficult task given that each service serves a different purpose.
But here’s the thing: WhatsApp is still the world’s most popular messaging platform, with a heavy following in South America, Africa and other swaths of the world. It’s often touted as one of the most secure messaging apps around. By streamlining these services so people can cross-communicate within their respective apps, it means that all three apps will need to become more homogenous—whether with their encryption protocols, login credentials, or any other way is still unknown.
On the flip side, if Facebook were to dial back the amount of data collection and up the encryption settings on its other apps, this could end upbeing a great step toward a more secure and private internet.
Still, considering the founders of both WhatsApp and Instagram left after Facebook acquired each company is a little telling and could be a sign that there’s more happening behind the scenes than industryexecs are letting on.
Could plummeting stocks be pushing this change?
There’s no question Facebook’s facing more government scrutiny thanever before, and experts are already speculating that this merger isbeing done pre-emptively before the U.S. is able to enforce new lawsthat could effectively punish Facebook for buying up all thecompetition.
Already, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) has publicly demanded that Facebook reveal more information regarding the merger, and leaders in Washington are also voicing concern.
“Facebook and Google’s dominance over data has already harmedconsumers and the economy. The FTC and the Department of Justice musttake Big Tech’s invasive, anticompetitive practices seriously and beginto vigorously enforce our laws,” Senator Richard Blumenthal recently told The Verge.
With so many different social media sites floating around these days, it’s sometimes easy to forget that most are controlled by only ahandful of companies. Much like how cable companies and internet service providers (ISPs) in the U.S. are controlled by two or three flagshipbusinesses, many social services are simply offshoots of a bigger brand. Twitter owns Periscope, Gnip, and obviously TweetDeck, while Facebook also owns Oculus and Masquerade.
Integrating Facebook’s multiple messaging services could potentiallygive the company more sway among fledgling users, but it could also help the social media giant secure its stranglehold on the marketplace,which has been slipping in recent months.
You may want to consider using a different messaging service
With more than 2 billion active users, Facebook is still the undisputed king of social media. However, recent privacy scandals and shady business tricks have left many users feeling less than optimistic about the company’s future. In fact, stocks dropped roughly 20% in 2018, though analysts are predicting a strong uptick in 2019.
While the merger isn’t set to take effect until 2020, WhatsApp users may want to start looking for an alternative messaging service. We’ve covered a handful over the years (spoiler: Signal’s one our favorites), and while these services may not offer the same cross-functionality as Facebook-owned messengers, each is arguably more private.
Credit: Express VPN