WhatsApp is embarking on an initiative that will allow its vast user base of 2 billion to send messages across different messaging applications, according to a recent WIRED report. This effort, which has been in the works for around two years already, aims to facilitate seamless cross-app messaging while upholding WhatsApp’s commitment to end-to-end encryption. This marks a significant departure from WhatsApp’s previous stance, potentially enhancing competition among messaging apps.
This move toward interoperability is partly driven by regulatory pressures from the European Union. In September, the EU’s Digital Markets Act identified Meta, WhatsApp’s parent company, as a key digital “gatekeeper,” mandating it to enable cross-platform messaging. As the deadline approaches, WhatsApp is revealing its plans for how this cross-app messaging could function, striving to maintain its high standards of privacy and security.
How cross-app messaging will work
WIRED reports that the initial phase of this interoperability will enable basic functionalities such as text, image, voice messages, video, and file sharing between individuals. More advanced features, including calls and group chats, are expected to be introduced later. Importantly, this feature will be opt-in, allowing users to decide if they want to engage in cross-app messaging, which is crucial for controlling spam and scam risks.
Opting in will introduce users to a new “third-party chats” section within their inbox, segregating messages from other apps. This setup acknowledges the different privacy and security levels across networks. For seamless integration, WhatsApp is advocating for the use of the Signal encryption protocol, which it already employs. Third-party apps will need to encrypt their messages using this protocol and meet specific technical standards to ensure secure communication.
While WhatsApp has laid the technical foundation for interoperability, the success of this feature hinges on the cooperation of other messaging platforms. Detailed plans are expected to be unveiled in March, followed by a period for implementation. This initiative paves the way for a more interconnected messaging environment but also presents challenges, including security concerns, privacy implications, and the user experience.
Interoperability raises several practical issues, such as managing spam and ensuring user identities remain secure across different platforms. Moreover, the integration of diverse messaging systems with varying security measures and identification methods poses significant challenges. As WhatsApp moves forward with this feature, the focus will be on maintaining user privacy and security while fostering a unified messaging experience.