31 January 2019

The New York Times: “Zuckerberg plans to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger”

The effort has caused strife within Facebook. Instagram’s founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, left the company abruptly last fall after Mr. Zuckerberg began weighing in more. WhatsApp’s founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, departed for similar reasons. More recently, dozens of WhatsApp employees clashed with Mr. Zuckerberg over the integration plan on internal message boards and during a contentious staff meeting in December, according to four people who attended or were briefed on the event.

The integration plan raises privacy questions because of how users’ data may be shared between services. WhatsApp currently requires only a phone number when new users sign up. By contrast, Facebook and Facebook Messenger ask users to provide their true identities. Matching Facebook and Instagram users to their WhatsApp handles could give pause to those who prefer to keep their use of each app separate.

Mike Isaac

If there ever was a time to launch a competing, privacy-focused messaging app, this has to be it. Unlike most of the tech press, I don’t think Apple will step in with the magical solution of iMessage on Android. For one, I doubt they have the engineering know-how to build quality Android apps. And secondly, the only way another messaging app has any chance to compete is to be completely free, something that doesn’t go well with Apple’s business model (even less now, while it’s feeling the pressure to pivot to service revenues because of lower iPhone sales).

Ironically, while integrated messaging infrastructure could streamline Facebook’s engineering and cloud efforts, it could also cause increased scrutiny from antitrust authorities. Specifically, the European Commission has already fined the company in 2017 for not respecting the terms of the WhatsApp takeover; at the time, Facebook stated it would be impossible to match Facebook and WhatsApp account data automatically. It looks to me that this planned messaging integration would go further in that direction, and will likely trigger additional fines and countermeasures.

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