Facebook chief executive officer

Mark Zuckerberg is planning to integrate the chat tools on the WhatsApp,
Instagram and Facebook Messenger services, a move that could help the
social media giant identify users’ identities across all of its
properties, and bolster its case against a breakup by regulators.

Zuckerberg’s plans,
reported earlier by the New York Times, would involve stitching together
the three apps’ messaging products behind the scenes, though consumers
would still interact with each service separately. Facebook says the
move would also enhance users’ privacy by introducing encryption to
protect the messages from being viewed by anyone except those involved
in the conversation.

“People want messaging to be fast, simple, reliable and private,”
Facebook said in a statement. “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. As you would expect,
there is a lot of discussion and debate as we begin the long process of
figuring out all the details of how this will work.”

The move isn’t something that Facebook’s more than 2 billion users
have been asking for. Stitching the apps together may increase
data-sharing among the properties, helping Facebook identify users
across the platform, and improve the ability to target ads to them.

WhatsApp currently allows a person to create an account simply with a
phone number, while Instagram allows people to have multiple anonymous
accounts without using their real names. Zuckerberg’s vision centres
around a service based on real identity.

WhatsApp, which Facebook bought in 2014 for $19bn, and
Instagram, which was purchased in 2012 for $715m, had been
operated relatively independently within Facebook until they grew to
become more important parts of Facebook’s business.

Tensions around Zuckerberg’s pushes for integration and control led to
the departures of founders of both services in the last year, people
familiar with the matter have said. Last year, Zuckerberg started
calling his portfolio a “family of apps.”

Another potential argument for bringing the three units more firmly
into the parental fold is the threat of a
regulatory breakup of Facebook.

Progressive groups have been urging the
Federal Trade Commission for months to carve up Facebook and split off
Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger into their own companies. That would
be harder to accomplish if the services are more tightly entwined.

At
the same time, it may increase concerns about transparency for consumers
around how Facebook’s data gathering works.

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