Facebook is making its ecosystem more welcoming, regardless of which service you use.
The company recently announced that it would integrate its Messenger app with Instagram and WhatsApp. Each app will also tout end-to-end encryption—an important element, considering Facebook’s ongoing crises regarding users’ privacy and data.
The three standalone apps will remain separate, but they’ll be brought together under a single messaging platform or protocol. The changes would allow you to send messages from one of the company’s chat systems to another—so you could speak to your Messenger-only friends without leaving WhatsApp.
Though full details are still unknown, Facebook sources told reporters that the integration should happen by early 2020.
Knitting together Facebook’s apps is a stark reversal of Mr. Zuckerberg’s previous stance toward WhatsApp and Instagram, which were independent companies that Facebook acquired.
… WhatsApp and Instagram have grown tremendously since then, prompting Mr. Zuckerberg to change his thinking, one of the people said. He now believes integrating the services more tightly will benefit Facebook’s entire “family of apps” in the long term by making them more useful, the person said. Mr. Zuckerberg floated the idea for months and began to promote it to employees more heavily toward the end of 2018, the people said.
In a statement, Facebook told the Guardian: “We want to build the best messaging experiences we can; and people want messaging to be fast, simple, reliable and private.
“We’re working on making more of our messaging products end-to-end encrypted and considering ways to make it easier to reach friends and family across networks. As you would expect, there is a lot of discussion and debate as we begin the long process of figuring out all the details of how this will work.”
Though Facebook says the integration is to boost user experience, the move is ultimately aimed at keeping users on its platforms for as long as possible. The longer users stay, the more data can be collected and the more expensive—and alluring—Facebook can make its advertising offerings to interested marketers.
By allowing these messaging apps to speak to one another across platforms, Facebook is no doubt hoping that it will keep its users more engaged and get them to use this merged system as their primary messaging service. By doing so, the company could also tout higher user engagement to advertisers, bumping up its advertising arm at a time when growth has slowed down.
The data that Facebook can collect across its interwoven services can also help create better targeted (and, ultimately, more effective) ads within whichever app the user opens.
Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst at research firm eMarketer, said data would likely be shared between the apps as a result of the move. That could make it easier for Facebook to track users’ activities across its family of apps and target ads more effectively.
Facebook marketing partners can benefit from increased data about users’ activities and behaviors on the platforms, but the integration also means they can reach more consumers—especially those who aren’t on the platform they use.
The New York Times reported:
One potential business opportunity involves Facebook Marketplace, a free Craigslist-like product where people can buy and sell goods. The service is popular in Southeast Asia and other markets outside the United States.
When the apps are knitted together, Facebook Marketplace buyers and sellers in Southeast Asia will be able to communicate with one another using WhatsApp, which is popular in the region, rather than using Facebook Messenger or another, non-Facebook text message service.
The integration can also make content creation and messaging for marketers more streamlined.
Though Facebook’s announcement might be exciting for brand managers, users have had mixed reactions. Many have expressed privacy concerns, especially with user trust declining after crises such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
For users, increased data sharing could also mean that information about their activities on WhatsApp will be associated with what they do on Facebook, Instagram or Messenger, [Williamson] added.
“If users didn’t think Facebook and its messaging apps were all the same company, they will have to confront that reality now,” Williamson said. “Knitting the messaging apps together shows that Facebook wants to exert more control over them, and that may lead to more internal executive conflict.”
The decision comes as Facebook faces repeated investigations and criticisms over the way it has handled and safeguarded user data.
Comprehensively linking user data at a fundamental level may prompt regulators to take another look at its data handling practices.
The UK’s Information Commissioner has already conducted investigations into how much data is shared between WhatsApp and Facebook.
The move toward their integration also makes it more difficult for the company’s services to be broken apart, potentially meaning less regulation for Facebook. Critics are already sharing concerns online, delivering another reputation management issue for Facebook’s PR team to tackle.
CNBC spoke with several antitrust lawyers who all said that Facebook’s move is unlikely to bring new antitrust action against the company. But the public debate quickly started percolating.
Marc Rotenberg, president and executive director the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Times that Facebook’s plans would be “a terrible outcome for internet users,” and Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) took to Twitter to voice his concern.
What do you think of Facebook’s announcement?