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Facebook Messenger update could let users chat with WhatsApp contacts, hidden database suggests

Adam Smith
WhatsApp is one common service that includes end-to-end encryption in messages: AFP via Getty Images

Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have seemingly taken another step to being compatible with one another.

According to WaBetaInfo, a website which notes changes that happen in the messaging app, new references found in a local Facebook database suggests that the two applications will be more closely linked.

Several tables, with names such as “whats_app_chat_session” and “whats_app_contact” suggests that one user messaging via Facebook and another messaging via WhatsApp will be able to communicate.

However, this means that Facebook will be able to understand if a WhatsApp contact is blocked, the details of the chat (such as phone number or if the chat is archived), and push notifications.

This is apparently separate from Facebook being able to access the content in the WhatsApp messages, which are protected by end-to-end encryption even though Facebook owns both Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

The report also suggests that Facebook will use the Signal protocol already used by WhatsApp to encrypt and decrypt messages.

The protocol is that used by encrypted messaging app Signal, which has seen a distinct rise in users in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests taking place in the US.

It is unclear whether Facebook will upload this database on its server in order to have it accessed by other devices, nor is it clear whether users will be able to disable this functionality.

As well as WhatsApp, Instagram is also working to recommend users download Facebook Messenger, seemingly as a way to integrate the two messaging platforms. Instagram is owned by Facebook.

#Instagram keeps working on the #Facebook #Messenger integration 👀

— Alessandro Paluzzi (@alex193a)
June 9, 2020

All of this behaviour implies the company is moving tighter towards a vision put forward by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2019.

While the apps will remain distinct from one another, the underlying messaging infrastructure would be unified.

This has benefits and hindrances. Facebook Messenger is currently not end-to-end encrypted by default, making it a less secure platform in comparison to WhatsApp.

However, Facebook has a concerning history when it comes to user privacy, and the fusion of three platforms will not be easy.

“Merging personal information and privacy configurations from three significant applications won’t be trivial,” data privacy expert Tim Mackey told The Independent at the time.

“Facebook development teams would do well to look at this precedent and prioritise user privacy."

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