Mother of all mergers between Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram: EU Data Privacy restrictions against Facebook’s imperialistic plans

(Pixabay, 2019)

Facebook celebrated its fifteen years last Monday and reported earnings in the last quarter of 2018 despite the scandals brought to light during the previous year. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, stated that there is a plan to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger by 2020 in order to allow users to send messages between these platforms.

However, there are a lot of data privacy issues and concerns that need to be addressed. This merger has to overcome several obstacles, ranging from GDPR regulations to end-to end encryption by default and transfer of data between the services.

A Herculean merger

Mark Zuckerberg had stated in 2012 and 2014 when WhatsApp and Instagram were acquired respectively that these two firms will remain independent compared to Facebook. Nevertheless, Facebook expressed its intention to gather together all three social network’s messaging services and create a super large unified platform of WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger. This plan is scheduled for early 2020 as there are many aspects to be considered in this complex endeavour.

More specifically, Facebook told the Guardian abour this topic that: “We want to build the best messaging experiences we can; and people want messaging to be fast, simple, reliable and private. 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.”

Data privacy restrictions

The way EU users’ data will be shared between those famous apps is a very serious concern which jeopardise the whole integration project. WhatsApp only requires a phone number whereas Facebook Messenger asks for real identity configuration in order to sign up. This could result to a sharing of a full personal data total between WhatApp and Facebook users.

Back in 2016, Facebook and WhatsApp attempted to share user information but in the end stopped because the UK Information Commissioner Office (ICO) raised concerns about the entire procedure. The final ruling of ICO, which took place last March, was that this action was illegal. What is more, the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, stated: “WhatsApp has assured us that no UK user data has ever been shared with Facebook (other than as a ‘data processor’ [that is: it only provides WhatsApp with some assistance, such as for instance, server space]”.

Another issue here is the difference in the way each service encrypts its messages. Currently WhatsApp uses a by default end-to-end encryption which prevents anyone from blocking the contents of messages while users need to enable this security feature in Facebook Messenger and encryption is not an option in Instagram. Thus, there is high possibility that this diversity could conclude to lowering the level of encryption in order to be able to complete the merger.

Last but not least, GDPR regulations could be another privacy hustle against the implementation of this merger. Especially, companies have to follow the data minimisation rule where a firm is not allowed to hold more personal information that it needs to for the service provided. Therefore, there might be a bridge in the GDPR rules if the personal information that for example Facebook Messenger uses is not required by WhatsApp.

Will this merger bring additional revenues?

The integration of these platforms is most likely a new way of Facebook’s CEO to create extra turnover and expand its advertising services in Instagram and WhatsApp. Apparently, Mark Zuckerberg foresees new horizons which could increase his company’s profits. But at what cost for the EU citizens and their personal data privacy?

It is quite certain that Facebook will try its very best to fulfil the merger of Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp and will use its lobby to ensure that this plan will take place.

But what matters the most is not how to generate more revenue for a giant tech company, but above all to protect the personal data and rights of the EU users who will be left helpless unless the EU data protection watchdog steps up to enforce the EU laws strictly, regardless of the size of the company or its lobby budget.

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