Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram merging? A triumph of stupidity, with one upside

Mark Zuckerberg plans to integrate Facebook’s messaging services — WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger. This has only one BIG positive outcome. And it is big only because of stupidity.

OUR stupidity.

According to a New York Times article published on Jan. 25th, 2019: “The services will continue to operate as stand-alone apps, but their underlying technical infrastructure will be unified, said four people involved in the effort. That will bring together three of the world’s largest messaging networks, which between them have more than 2.6 billion users, allowing people to communicate across the platforms for the first time.”

Before looking at the reasons and the one positive outcome, please re-read again that last sentence, here in its true, unfiltered form:

“His Highness Zuckerberg is graciously allowing his subjects to directly communicate with each other for the first time.”

and stand back one moment to appreciate what stupid we all are.

Seeing our collective stupidity in all its glory is easy:

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  • Just imagine, for one moment, that “WhatsApp”, “Facebook Messenger” and “Instagram” were not “apps” but phone manufacturers
  • Just imagine Huawei, Apple and Samsung making smartphones that could not call each other.

Had those companies done something so stupid, they would have collapsed of embarrassment before even going bankrupt, with the whole world laughing in their faces. By now, their executives couldn’t make a living with a lemonade stand. Ditto for whatever regulator had allowed them to be in business.

The fact itself that Zuckerberg could make billions in the COMMUNICATION industry by amassing 2.6 billion users in NON- communicating cages is beyond redemption (for us and the politicians we elect, not him). But let’s look at this gracious concession anyway.

Why Facebook is doing this:

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  1. To show you cannot trust anybody’s word when there is so much money at stake. When Facebook bought Instagram and then WhatsApp, it promised them “plenty of autonomy”. Yeah, right.
  2. Because conceding end-to-end encryption across all the services (which is objectively good, mind you) makes Facebook look good without hurting its bottom line. See the picture above: WHAT MATTERS IS METADATA. As Sarah Jamie Lewis put it on Twitter: “Facebook are going to monetize encrypted messaging by consolidating metadata analysis of [the 3 merged platforms]. They will make money by tracking your relationships and social groups. They will make that information easily accessible to law enforcement.
  3. Locking people in. What improves the bottom line is, regardless of encryption and of what they tell ech other, how much time people spend inside the box: “A more engaged audience could result in new forms of advertising or other services for which Facebook could charge a fee”. Quoting Lewis again, “The point of all this isn’t accessible privacy, it’s inaccessible surveillance.”. And the hell with privacy
  4. Fight antitrust, of course: making all those services “much tighter and interwoven” than they are today “could make the key parts of Facebook’s empire more difficult to break up and spin off, if governments and regulators decide that is necessary”.

Oh, boy, I can’t believe I’m reading this:

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Here is a couple of gems I found when reading about the merger. The first is from BBC: “Once complete, the merger would mean that a Facebook user could communicate directly with someone who only has a WhatsApp account. This is currently impossible as the applications have no common core.”

WRONG. The reason why this is currently impossible is because each applications uses, by design, incompatible communication protocols. iPhones and Samsung phones can talk to each other even if they have zero components and lines of software in common. Confusing protocols with software bases is a sure sign a tech reporter should change line of work.

This, instead, is from a lecturer interviewed by Wired: “Frankly, I think the authorities in the EU at least should be looking at trying to stop this – and even take it further, to try to break up Facebook.”

Breaking up Facebook? Half impossible, half unnecessary: see here and here for details.

The only good thing in this mess is…

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Social networking like Facebook does it today remains a huge problem. It is appalling how much of both the media and the so-called “digital natives” are confused. It is equally appalling how many “alternatives” aim at overcomplicated, futuristic stuff that so far has only made the problem twice as bad. Still, until a real solution will be available, this merger should bring at least one concrete, undeniable improvement, as long as Facebook or Instagram accounts remain usable only with email addresses: the possibility to give different contact information (i.e. independent identities) to people who, for whatever reason, can or want to use only something as rude and limited as WhatsApp.

And the real solution is…

Don’t even waste one minute to “break up Facebook”, or maybe even to prevent this merger. Just demand new regulations that force Facebook to:

  1. allow the users of all its services to do instant messaging with everybody else, through really standard, non-proprietary protocols
  2. post and read content inside the same services with whatever software they want.

My own little proposal for a feasible alternative to Facebook is here. If you want me to speak, write or do other work about these topics, just email mfioretti@nexaima.net. To support my work with donations, see below.