Facebook has announced plans to merge it’s three social media and messaging apps – WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger by the end of 2019 or early 2020.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the merger will allow messages to travel across the three platforms without having to switch.
Zuckerberg said WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram messaging will be end-to-end encrypted when they merge, which means the message will be visible only to the users and no one else.
Presently, only WhatsApp provides end-to-end encryption as a default option. Facebook messenger allows encryption only in secret conversations, which can be accessed from the app, but it’s not the default. Instagram doesn’t have any encryption at all.
After acquiring Instagram and WhatsApp, Zuckerberg said that the two apps would have a certain amount of autonomy from their new owners.
The three apps had different uses and different structures. They are entirely seperate at the moment, although owned by one company .
Last year, the three apps started to have similar features like Instagram stories, Facebook stories and WhatsApp status. These functions allow users to post pictures and videos that appear on the stories or status for 24 hours.
However, a major cause for concern among critics of the merger is that it may be harder to use one or more of the services without tying users’ profiles to a central identity database.
Many also suspect that the merger is a ploy to force people to Facebook, especially those who have chosen not to join it but are on WhatsApp and Instagram.
Another point is that some users are more comfortable with WhatsApp because it allows them to create an account with only a phone number whereas Facebook requires your legal name under its controversial “real name” policy.
The company maintains that the “real name” policy is to prevent confusion and fraud, but it has caused people who want to keep their identity to leave the platform.
Whatever has an advantage, may also have a disadvantage but it seems users will be left with no choice on what will happen after the merger.
Below are some of the issues being rasied by critics and skeptics alike:
User name issues
James Fenton, an American independent identity privacy and security consultant said “The obvious identity issue is usernames. I’m one thing on Facebook and another on Instagram, in some ways, having the three linked more closely together would be good because it would make it more transparent that they are connected. But there are some Instagram and WhatsApp users who don’t want to use Facebook. This might be seen as a way to try to push more people in.”
It was also reported by New York times that end-to-end encryption is difficult to implement correctly, because any oversight or bug can undermine the whole scheme. For example, both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger currently use the open-source Signal protocol (used in the Signal encrypted messaging app), but the implementations are different, because one service has the encryption on by default and the other doesn’t. Melding these different approaches could create opportunities for error.
Mathew Green, associate professor of Computer Science at the John Hopkins Information Security Institute in a Twitter thread said: “This move could potentially be good or bad for security/privacy. But given recent history and financial motivations of Facebook, I wouldn’t bet my lunch money on “good”. Now is a great time to start moving important conversations off those services.”
Registration with different accounts
There is also the matter of different registration requirements when it comes to different apps. You need your Facebook identity for messenger, an email for Instagram, and your phone number for WhatsApp. There are clear concerns how the metadata from the future interactions between users across the platform will be used by Facebook. Some people might not want to have their identities across these platforms unified and would rather opt out. It is unclear at this time what guarantees will be put in place to address these concerns.
In spite of these anticipated challenges and concerns, why is Zuckerberg hellbent on carrying out this merger? A tech analyst in Nigeria, Chike Chigozie, believes the Facebook boss is trying to create a unified messaging platform to compete better with rival platforms.
His words: “I think he is trying to bring the three apps together to have a common messaging platform which will compete against google and apple messaging platforms. It’s also possible that he is also trying to create a more unified messaging platform for users.”
He said Facebook may be trying to reach a wider audience and retain some users, especially considering the fact that Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp together, have about 2.6 billion users.
According to Chigozie, an advantage in the merger is that users don’t necessarily “have to have Instagram or WhatsApp account before messaging you on Facebook messenger and vice-versa.”
The storm around the merger may not just be raging among users but also in-house. It is believed that the departure of WhatsApp founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton; and Instagram founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, last year, may not be unconnected to the merger plans, or might even be the reason behind the plan.