The New York Times is reporting in January, 2019, that Facebook – the world’s largest social media business – is planning to merge the direct message function of three of its apps.
WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger all have a messaging service that works independent from one another, and invariably in direct competition.
But Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO, has apparently signed this one off himself. Users who have these three social media apps will have noticed some subtle changes in the messaging and wall areas of each platform. Instagram started off as a photo and video app and little more than that. Later, it began producing “Live” features and a “Story” tale, which would disappear after 24 hours.
Then the same two features popped up on Facebook. When Zuckerberg acquired Instagram and WhatsApp he promised the outgoing owners that the autonomy enjoyed by these platforms would remain. It seems he left a little bit out of his statement at the end, which should have read: you will continue to enjoy a certain amount of autonomy, for the time being.
The “time being” appears to up at some point towards the end of 2019 and in the beginning of 2020. However, Zuckerberg has insisted the apps will continue to be standalone. When you access each one of the three applications you will continue to be required to open them separately, as you would now.
What about the Privacy Row?
Oh yes, don’t think many of us have forgotten about that. Notable issues included internet privacy. There was widespread misuse of the “Like” button and this began to alert third party advertisers to target you with advertisements relating to the stuff you chose to “like”.
When you would click “Like” on a certain band or book, advertisers would begin to bombard users with tailored made and targeted ads. It felt to the user as if every preference was being diligently monitored by businesses.
Zuckerberg has confirmed the technical structure of all three apps will remain unchanged. You will still be able to message other users as you would today. However, once the Zuckerberg merger goes ahead, you will be able to message someone in Instagram or WhatsApp without leaving Facebook Messenger.
The CEO has insisted that every communication and message that goes back and forth between users will remain encrypted and private. No other person or body will be able to see your messages. At present, WhatsApp is the only messenger service of the three that allows end-to-end encryption. Facebook Messenger should come into line with this privacy issue, but there are fears the social media giant’s previous track record is not exactly very dynamic when it comes to privacy.
There are natural concerns, particularly from those of us who already use all three apps at present. When we signed up to Facebook Messenger there will be have been a number of registration requirements (unless you automatically connect through Facebook). Instagram required its own set of registration requirements via an email. When you joined WhatsApp you will have needed to disclose your phone number.
There are certainly going to be many who baulk at the prospect of identities spread across these three platforms. Although there will be the option to opt out – why do we think it will probably be default that you are in?
Would it not be better if users could opt in to the merger, rather than be forced to say no and opt out? There seems to be no time guarantees put in place to address these concerns. It appears that Zuckerberg is going to implement this connection whether we are ready for it, or not.
The close integration between Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram messaging seems to go against the beliefs and visions of the original founders of Instagram and WhatsApp. When Facebook bought the two platforms, it made it clear to the founders of Instagram and WhatsApp that its vision and concept would continue to run in the same way it had always perceived.
The founders had even been given a place on the board of Facebook. But when these CEOs stepped down from their positions in 2018, there was much speculation as to why. Were they told of this link several months ago and vehemently disapproved? Are they sitting in horror at the way their creations are about to be trashed and “colonised” by the big brotherly shadow of Facebook?
These speculations are all open to conjecture and there may be nothing in it at all to worry about. However, these concerned voices are seemingly spreading to some very high places. The Irish Data Protection Commission is urging Facebook to answer some gritty questions. It has already demanded Zuckerberg’s creation be open and transparent about what exactly it is they are proposing.
The commission is the body that regulates Facebook for the EU (European Union). It knows the plans of Facebook are still in the very early development stages, but its concerns are still very raw and real. It wants early assurances and guarantees the new plans will comply with the GDPR.
GDPR – A Far Reaching Regulation
When GDPR was introduced into the European Union, many said it was introduced because of Facebook’s ongoing privacy scandals. Remember back in 2016, when Facebook began to share our personal user data from WhatsApp account holders? We were all horrified and the scandal was even raised in the Houses of Parliament, the seats of power in the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom’s all-powerful Data Protection Watchdog got involved and forced the plan to be shelved. It saw no reason why Facebook should not instead engage in healthy competition with its new acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram.
What is Being Said by US Officials?
Many across the US and data protection bodies were showing concern as far back as the day Facebook acquired Instagram. America sees the idea of Facebook competing in a healthy environment with WhatsApp and Instagram as a good one.
The idea of one huge umbrella dominating our social media stinks of a Big Brother future. And one to possibly be a grave cause for concern.