A Facebook plan to potentially merge Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram has caused controversy this week. The idea is to make it possible for users of the different platforms to message each other directly, but some experts and lawmakers are raising concerns about the privacy implications and antitrust issues stemming from the plan.
Democratic Representative Ro Khanna, from California’s 17th congressional district covering Silicon Valley, was one of the first to raise concerns. “This is why there should have been far more scrutiny during Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp which now clearly seem like horizontal mergers that should have triggered antitrust scrutiny,” he said in a tweet. “Imagine how different the world would be if Facebook had to compete with Instagram and WhatsApp. That would have encouraged real competition that would have promoted privacy and benefited consumers.”
Further concerns about privacy were raised by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, known for taking a strong pro-user stance on privacy issues. In a statement to Business Insider, he said: “I have a lot of questions about how Facebook intends to combine these services. If it does anything to weaken the security and encryption of WhatsApp, that would represent a major blow to the security of millions of people around the world. If Facebook is doing this so it can harvest even more of our personal information for profit, it’s yet another reason to be concerned about how corporations are using our data. This is yet another reason to pass a strong privacy bill, like the one I’ve proposed.”
Facebook claims that as part of the merging of services they are working on enabling end-to-end encryption on all three apps, which would improve security for messages. But Professor Matthew Green, a cryptographer at Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, expressed skepticism over this claim in a tweet thread. He pointed out that WhatsApp already uses end-to-end encryption, but currently it is not clear if other services’ encryption will be upgraded to allow communication between platforms, or whether WhatsApp decryption will be downgraded. “This move could… potentially be good or bad for security/privacy,” he concluded. “But given recent history and financial motivations of Facebook, I wouldn’t bet my lunch money on ‘good.’ Now is a great time to start moving important conversations off those services.”
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