Facebook plans to integrate its messaging services on Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
While all three will remain stand-alone apps, at a much deeper level they will be linked so messages can travel between the different services.
Facebook told the BBC it was at the start of a “long process”.
The plan was first reported in the New York Times and is believed to be a personal project of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Once complete, the merger would mean that a Facebook user could communicate directly with someone who only has a WhatsApp account. This is currently impossible as the applications have no common core.
The work to merge the three elements has already begun, reported the NYT, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2019 or early next year.
Facebook-looking-dodgy in the news again this week (previously) with the news that they plan to integrate Instagram and WhatsApp into their central platform. They’re selling the upsides of this, such as that Facebook and WhatsApp users will be able to communicate with one another without switching to a different tool, but privacy advocates are understandably concerned: compared to Facebook, WhatsApp provides a reasonable level of anonymity. It also seems likely that this move may be an effort to preempt antitrust suits forcing Facebook’s property portfolio to be kept separate.
But even without those concerns, there are smaller but just-as-real, more-insidious privacy risks from this integration. With a very minor change to their terms and conditions about the use of the WhatsApp app Facebook can start performing even more-sophisticated big-data mining on the types of interpersonal relationships that they’re known to enjoy (let’s not forget that this is the company whose app will, left-unchecked, mine your mobile phone book to find friends-in-common that you have with other people, even if that friend-in-common doesn’t use Facebook!). With WhatsApp’s treasure trove of metadata, Facebook can determine who you talk to and, from where, and with what frequency: by technical necessity, none of this metadata is protected by WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption. Similarly, they can determine what “groups” you participate in. This easily supports the “shadow profiles” they maintain which tell them far more about your life and interests than your mere Facebook profile alone does.
I for one will be watching WhatsApp with care and dropping it if it looks likely to “turn evil”. It’s not as though there aren’t (arguably better) alternatives, such as Signal (which I already use as my primary mobile text messaging system) and Riot.