Facebook's latest plan for WhatsApp seems to be a privacy nightmare!

Facebook's latest plan for WhatsApp seems to be a privacy nightmare!

Facebook is planning to stitch together its three main messaging services - WhatsApp, Instagram direct messages and Facebook Messenger. But, the move is raising concerns about privacy.

It was only last year that Facebook was besieged by angry users and worried investors over the company's privacy crisis and now, in 2019, the Menlo Park-headquartered company is back in news again. This time it is being questioned over its attempt to integrate its messaging platforms - WhatsApp, Instagram direct messages and Facebook Messenger. The integration attempts sound good on paper, but has a lot of people worried.

Why merge at all?

For starters, the integration is aimed at keeping users locked into Facebook's ecosystem. No matter what you do, you'll, in almost all probability, be on one of the three Facebook owned apps. This will not only increase Facebook's user base but will also enhance its advertising business and provide new source of revenues. With growth slowing down, regulators constantly prodding and the company reducing the advertisements on news feed of its primary platform, the timing of the union makes complete sense.

Talking about advertisements, the integration will enhance Facebook's understanding of its users. Ad targeting from Facebook is already disconcertingly accurate. It is serving you ads based on your like/dislikes, statuses you post and even the websites you visit. The integration will only enhance Facebook's knowledge about you and help it to serve more relevant ads.

But the biggest advantage for Facebook is the end of fragmentation. As more and more people rely on messaging apps to communicate, the need for having two-three different messaging apps for different sets of people on different platforms is frustrating. The integration will simplify the life of not only the users but also Facebook as it won't have to develop competing versions of new features.

Lastly, the cross-platform messaging will simplify business dealings. The integration would make it possible for businesses using one platform to message potential clients on other chat platforms. For example, a clothing brand on Instagram can directly get in touch with a buyer on Facebook Messenger, one-on-one to finalise a deal!

What about privacy?

For starters, the whole business model of Facebook is based on visibility of users' data and understanding what they like or dislike. All of the data collected by Facebook allows them to customise the users' news feed. But, Facebook has failed in the past to ensure privacy and secure users' data. Facebook reportedly even considered selling user data to the advertisers back in 2012 and 2014. At least on the outside, Facebook has woken up to the issue of privacy and data protection after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but its efforts continue to remain less than desirable. And, with plans to bring advertisements to the WhatsApp status feed, the distrust is likely to grow.

More importantly, among the three Facebook-owned platforms, only WhatsApp supports end-to-end encryption. Facebook Messenger, on the other hand, requires users to toggle the secret conversation feature and Instagram messages aren't end-to-end encrypted at all.

What happens when an Instagram user messages a WhatsApp user? Since Instagram messages aren't encrypted, the chats may be vulnerable to hackers! Implementation of cross-platform end-to-end encryption isn't an easy task. It will require Facebook to rebuild Instagram messages and Facebook Messenger from the ground up. This would require implementation of identical protocols on all three platforms. For example, at the moment the Signal protocol, a cryptographic protocol that is used to provide end-to-end encryption, are implemented differently on both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

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Published on: Jan 30, 2019, 5:11 PM IST
Posted by: Udit Verma, Jan 30, 2019, 5:11 PM IST