The good and bad of Facebook merging messaging platforms

The good and bad of Facebook merging messaging platforms

posted Saturday Jan 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

The good and bad of Facebook merging messaging platforms

Over the past few years, Facebook has made a number of high-profile acquisitions. Among those purchases have been a few with messaging capabilities: primarily Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, followed by WhatsApp for $16 billion in 2014. One of the early commitments during these acquisitions was that Facebook would keep their hands off of the operations of these individual properties, but that commitment has never been upheld. In fact, after a privacy policy update, the platforms have been nearly inseparable. The strong hand of Facebook has even forced out the founders of both of these companies, with all leaving over disagreements about the directions of the companies - in particular, advertising strategies.

This week, according to The New York Times, Facebook is planning to integrate its three standalone messaging platforms into a single, unified system. This would mean that someone using Facebook Messenger would be able to message someone on WhatsApp without having to have an account on that platform. According to a spokesperson,

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.

All of this might sound good on the surface, but there is one big problem with the concept: Facebook will never implement end-to-end encryption on all of its messaging platforms. If they were to encrypt all messaging, they would lose their single biggest source of advertising information within their ecosystem. What you post on Facebook and Instagram helps, but not nearly as much as that personal and direct communication between friends. To encrypt that would mean that all of that information is lost to their algorithms.

A foundational principle of WhatsApp is that all communications are encrypted, but the other two have no such promise with their users. That means that, if a single gateway is created between the three platforms, it will need to be an open gateway, leaving any message that leaves WhatsApp unencrypted. With an open gateway, it leaves new vulnerabilities into the WhatsApp system, and will ultimately create confusion for WhatsApp users about what is and is not private communications.

The idea of a unified messaging system sounds good at first, but the reality is not nearly as rosy.

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