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Facebook, in a bid to retain users of its social networking sites amid security and privacy concerns, is planning to allow cross-platform messaging between WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct. Mint analyses how this will work and the implications.

What features will be available as part of cross-platform messaging?

The integration is only between the messaging services of the three social media platforms, but they will continue to exist and operate separately as they do at present. This new development will only allow users to send messages to a WhatsApp friend or group using Instagram Direct—the messaging service built inside Instagram—or Facebook Messenger and vice versa. This means features within WhatsApp such as unified payments interface will not be accessible from Messenger. Similarly, features of Messenger such as games will not be available on WhatsApp.

Does this spell good news for users?

WhatsApp’s friend community largely revolves around users’ phone contacts, while Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct are linked to users’ profile and friends. So, if WhatsApp users don’t have contact details of their Facebook or Instagram friends, they cannot chat with them on WhatsApp and will have to go to their respective messaging platforms. The integration will let them chat with their wider social network from any one of the three platforms. It will also make forwarding links and messages simpler. At present, they have to copy and paste messages from one platform’s chat window to another.

Graphic: Vipul Sharma/Mint
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Graphic: Vipul Sharma/Mint

When is this happening?

Reports say the process of unifying the underlying messaging infrastructure of the three platforms has started and will be over by the end of this year or early next year. The roll-out is likely to be sometime in 2020.

What about privacy risks?

Facebook has been getting flak for its lackadaisical attitude towards data privacy. There have been several data leaks since the Cambridge Analytica scandal. An NYT report says the unified back-end will support end-to-end encryption for all communication between WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger or Instagram Direct. For that, Facebook will have to encrypt all messages on Messenger and Instagram as well. At present, message encryption is optional on Messenger and doesn’t exist on Instagram.

Why is Facebook making the move now?

Even as Facebook battles privacy concerns, Chinese social networks such as WeChat, QQ and Qzone have become popular. While they are catching up with Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp in terms of user base, they are close to it in revenue. Chinese firm Tencent, which owns these platforms, was the most valuable social network company in November 2017, with a market capitalization of $540 billion. By latching Messenger and Instagram Direct with WhatsApp, Facebook is trying to keep users within its ecosystem. 

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