The Meta-owned instant messaging platform WhatsApp will soon introduce cross-messaging services. This change comes as a response to the European Union’s Digital Market Act (DMA) that declared Meta a “gatekeeper” and directed the company to allow third-party users to communicate with the company’s platforms. The DMA had provided the company with a deadline of six months to implement the changes.
What Is A Gatekeeper According To DMA?
DMA’s definition of a “gatekeeper” entails having a considerable influence over a particular area of operation. For instance, Alphabet’s Google and Apple were considered “gatekeepers” given their influence over the app distribution channels, namely Play Store and App Store. Hence, the DMA directed WhatsApp and Messenger to introduce interoperability to break the influence and empower people to use their platform of choice.
Interoperability Will Work With These Features At First
Per a report by Wired, interoperability will initially focus on text messaging, images, voice messages, videos, and files. As mentioned in the report, the idea is that users shouldn’t need to know what messaging app their friends or family members use to text them. Further, they should be able to communicate from one app to another without downloading both.
Users Must Opt-In The Feature
WhatsApp and Messenger will allow users to choose whether they want to receive and share messages with third-party apps. Those who opt-in will see messages from other platforms in a separate section in their inbox. Although this will theoretically enable interoperability, it could have a potential downside. While messages sent within WhatsApp servers are end-to-end encrypted, transmitting them to another platform could result in loss of encryption.
It might come as a surprise to some readers, but both Meta and Signal use the same end-to-end encryption protocol. Hence, the Wired report mentions that Meta would prefer if other apps that want to interoperate with its texting service also implement the same encryption protocol. However, the company will allow other apps to use different protocols if they match WhatsApp’s standards.
No App Plans To Join Interoperability With WhatsApp For Now
Per the report, the messaging app Element has worked with WhatsApp to experiment with interoperability. However, when WhatsApp reached out to the Swiss messaging app Threema, the latter denied. Nonetheless, while the concept of interoperability solves the problem identified by the DMA, it also poses certain challenges that might not be easy to tackle.
Potential Challenges Of Interoperability
WhatsApp and Messenger users are already fed up with spam and scams. Bringing in interoperability could add to that. Then, there’s the challenge of identifying users across different apps. While some platforms rely on users’ phone numbers, others make them create a username or generate a unique identification number. To help users recognize others in an interoperable environment, developers must come up with a unified identification system.
Once users are accustomed to using the interoperable services, the companies could come together and impose a monthly or a yearly subscription fee to facilitate the convenience of chatting with friends on different platforms without downloading them. That said, WhatsApp could roll out the functionality soon, given the DMA’s deadline is about to end in a few weeks.