Why Facebook wants to integrate its messaging apps

Facebook has yet to recover from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the personal data of millions of its users were harvested by a political consultancy without their consent, but it is now moving forward on a plan that could raise more doubts about its ability to protect the privacy of its users — not to mention the need to guard them against malicious information or fake news.

According to the New York Times, the world’s biggest social network is seeking to integrate its three messaging apps — WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger — into a single platform, a move that will enable users to send messages between those three apps.

This most likely means that a Facebook account holder can send a message to a WhatsApp user without having to switch apps.

The three apps will continue to operate separately, but their underlying technical infrastructure will be unified, the report said.

Thousands of Facebook staff are now working to reconfigure the system to accommodate such changes. The company aims to complete the integration by early 2020.

Moreover, Facebook wants to implement end-to-end encryption for all communications on the new platform. At the moment, such encryption is only available on WhatsApp.

Facebook told The Guardian newspaper: “We want to build the best messaging experiences we can; and people want messaging to be fast, simple, reliable and private.”

That’s all well and good, but the plan has still managed to raise concerns among some privacy advocates because it means providing a common pathway for the three apps, which could make them more vulnerable to intruders.

A cryptography expert interviewed by The Guardian noted that the integration could make WhatsApp less secure, rather than Facebook Messenger and Instagram becoming as secure as possible.

Also, WhatsApp users may find their metadata co-mingled with their broader Facebook accounts, the expert told the newspaper.

In its most recent earnings report, Facebook estimated that 2.6 billion people now use Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram or Messenger each month. More than 2 billion people use at least one of these Facebook-owned apps each day on average.

As such, an integration of the three apps would have a big impact on these users.

From a business perspective, the integration would improve the company’s operational efficiency. It could mean fewer people to manage or oversee the three platforms, which would result in big savings.

For the users, it would make communication across the three apps easier.

At the same time, such interconnectivity means it will be more convenient for users to stay within the Facebook ecosystem.

But whether users would welcome the new arrangement remains a question as it means Facebook would have easier access to their personal information.

Experts believe the integration could enable Facebook to build a single user profile from its different apps for better targeting of potential clients for its advertisers.

Currently, the three messaging apps have different registration methods. Facebook, for example, requires users to register their real name, while Instagram does not. WhatsApp only needs the user’s mobile phone number for service activation without requiring additional personal details.

Now, an integrated messaging service platform would be able to link the data and personal information of users from these three apps into a centralized database. This means that Facebook could identify each user even if they don’t provide their real identity in each of the three apps.

Unifying user data would be a big boost to Facebook’s advertising business because it means it could really target potential clients for its advertisements. It could also sell advertisements as a package that involves all the three apps.

In developed countries, the advertising business of social networking platforms, which is their main source of revenue, is reaching a saturation point.

It is becoming more difficult for these companies to monetize their apps for advertising business, especially as more people are becoming increasingly aware of the need to protect their privacy.

Still, Facebook’s plan to integrate its messaging apps will boost its efforts to monetize its services.

But users will always have a choice when its comes to messaging platforms. If they are no longer comfortable with Facebook, they can switch to Telegram or Apple’s iMessage, both of which provide encrypted communications — and so far do not monetize their service.

Originally published at www.ejinsight.com on January 29, 2019.

A columnist in political development in Greater China region, technology and gadgets, media industry, parenting and other interesting topics.

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