Mar 19th, 2019, 02:29 PM

Facebook is Merging Your Favorite Messaging Services

By Ramsey Daunch
Mark Zuckerberg Delivers a 2018 Keynote Speech. Image credit: Flickr/quintanomedia
From privacy and data regulation to user convenience, here are the implications.

On January 25, the New York Times broke a major story involving the controversial plan being put into motion by Mark Zuckerberg to merge the messaging capabilities of Facebook's dominant family of apps: WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger. In the proposed merger, users across each network would be able to freely communicate across all platforms. For example, a message sent within Facebook Messenger would be sent to and be receivable within both Instagram and WhatsApp.

With roughly 2.5 billion monthly active users across all platforms, Facebook boasts a dominant 65% control over global internet users and an equally impressive reach over 35% of the world population. A complete, seamless merger of all messaging platforms would have far-reaching implications for user privacy and monetization potential, while simultaneously creating a more integrated global community than ever before. At the moment, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram only serve as independent competitors to existing services such as Apple's iMessage, Tencent's WeChat, or smaller firms like Snapchat, Viber and Line. With the merger, not only will Facebook create a service with more users than every single one of these competitors combined - they will have paired their service with the existing social media functionality which already exists within the Instagram and Facebook apps. This would result in a new breed of social network, never before seen or successfully established.

David Marcus Speaks at Facebook's F8 2017 Developers Conference. Image Credit: Flickr/pestoverde

Not everyone is enthused. Various governmental agencies and privacy experts have displayed a markedly negative response for a plethora of reasons. Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins University, Tweeted that the "move could be potentially good or bad for security/privacy. But given recent history and financial motivations of Facebook, I wouldn't bet my lunch money on good." Past the fact that Facebook's track record is now marked to the brim with notable privacy blunders and legal snafu's, many question if this move would take the already suffocating Facebook into a full-blown monopoly territory. A newly created FTC taskforce in the United States is primed to come after Facebook on possible grounds of digital monopoly. Anti-trust watchdogs in Germany have already passed legislation against them on the same exact basis. And a wary Irish Data Protection Commission has long been discussing legal ramifications for the company. These are only the beginning of the hurdles Facebook is preparing to overcome on the road to service integration.

Despite the political posturing by the American Federal Trade Commission (FTC), some worry that their new task force will be quite toothless in pursuing potential tech monopolies such as Facebook, seeing as past punishments and fines towards similar conglomerates have had almost no effect. The more urgent danger for Facebook's lofty aspirations lies in Europe, where the German Bundeskartellamt (an independent German federation tasked with protecting competition) recently ruled that Facebook will not be able to combine data collected on users across all of its platforms into a single profile. This directly challenges the proposed messaging integration plan, and even worse for Facebook is that Germany's ruling could possibly serve as a precursor for other European governments to follow suit.


The United States Federal Trade Commission. Image Credit: U.S. National Archives

All in all, while numerous concerns have been raised across the anti-trust and privacy communities, the proposed messaging merger has the potential to revolutionize the internet as we know it in the sense that so many users will be able to communicate and view each other's online presences at a newly astronomical scale. Such a vast, connected online community would be unprecedented, and regulators have only begun to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the implications. What's clear is that if there is one party who will benefit the most from this plan, it will be Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook's shareholders. The conglomeration of user data would allow for immensely accurate targeted advertising - the lifeblood of Facebook's business model.

At this point, the actual accomplishment of the merger still lies far in the future. Zuckerberg himself stated that work had only just begun, and due to their need to "get it right," implementation of the plan could take up to two more years. In the meantime, Facebook has a gnarly obstacle course of regulatory blockades ahead of it to get over. For them, two years might just be too long.