Facebook’s decision to unite the technical guts of its three giant messaging services could not only cement its dominance of instant messaging but also help fend off future break-up attempts by antitrust cops.
Why it matters: Uniting the back-end technology that runs Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp is more than just an engineering call. It will bring together users of all three apps in a single network, database and community — enabling new features and opening the door to even more anticompetitive challenges, privacy troubles and social conflicts.
Driving the news: As the New York Times' Mike Isaac reported, and Facebook confirmed to Axios, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has decided to integrate the back-end infrastructures of Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger so that users of all three can directly message one another. The plan is still early and exploratory, according to Facebook.
What it means for Facebook's business
Reorganizing the codebases for Facebook's messaging services so that they are essentially one application with three different interfaces could make it much harder for a court or regulator to order a breakup of Facebook's properties, as some critics are proposing.
Facebook's integration plan is all about improving interoperability among its own "family of apps." But regulators and many users will also want to know whether Facebook's changes will help, or hinder, the messaging services' ability to communicate with users on competing services.
Zuckerberg's plan would also bolster Facebook's utility for its business customers, per Axios' Sara Fischer:
Zuckerberg has decided that all of the services should protect users' messages with end-to-end encryption by default, currently offered only on WhatsApp, according to the Times report.
No details are known of Facebook's plans, so it's impossible to say whether they will ultimately enhance user privacy or end up sparking new data scandals.
When Facebook acquired Instagram (2012) and WhatsApp (2014), it said it would keep both services running separately under their original leadership. But the founders of both companies departed last year.
Yes, but: People's lives are tangled up in these apps in complex ways. Instagram and WhatsApp evolved as separate products with their own unique features and user behavior patterns.
Treating these vast digital realms as interchangeable reservoirs of users may leave a bad taste for many, but that's not likely to slow Zuckerberg down.
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