Facebook is planning to merge Whatsapp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger into one encrypted system by the end of this year, or early 2020.
The three standalone apps will remain separate, but messaging functionality will be shared across them, enabling users across all three platforms to share messages from one service to another.
Facebook said it is still figuring out how to unify all three platforms together, but it will allow Facebook users to communicate directly with someone who, for example, only has an Instagram account.
The plan was initially reported by the New York Times (NYT) but was later confirmed by Facebook.
Until now, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram have run on separate platforms.
In a statement, Facebook said: “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,” it added.
The move has raised concerns among privacy researchers.
Mathew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins University, was quoted by the Guardian as saying the change “could potentially be good or bad for security/privacy”.
He added: “But given the 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.”
According to BBC’s technology reporter, Chris Fox, integrating the messaging part could also have the benefit of streamlining Facebook’s business.
For instance, Facebook would no longer be required to develop competing versions of new features, such as Stories, which all three apps have added with inconsistent results.
The integration will also enable Facebook to share data across all three networks to help its targeted advertising efforts.
Fox said that the integration would make Facebook’s suite of apps “a much tighter, interwoven collection of services.”
“That 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,” he added.
The decision to merge all three platforms together comes as Facebook continues to face criticism over the way it has handled and safeguarded user data.
The move may also prompt regulators to carry out further investigations relating to Facebook’s data handling practices.