WhatsApp’s Latest Test Brings It and Facebook Even Closer Together

WhatsApp’s Status feature lets users of the messaging app share posts with their friends for up to 24 hours, much like Snapchat Stories. Now WhatsApp is testing a new feature: sharing Status posts to Facebook.

For the first time, the Facebook-owned messaging service will let users share their Status to Facebook itself, according to The Verge. In addition, users will be able to share Status content to third-party services too, like Instagram, Gmail and Google Photos.

WhatsApp tells The Verge that users who share their Status to their Facebook Story won’t have their accounts linked. Presumably, this means user accounts on each service won’t be associated with each other, for added privacy.

Since acquiring WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion, Facebook has remained separate as a condition of the sale. But since then, both original founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, have left Facebook because of differences in vision for the company, Acton told Forbes.

Facebook had pressured them to make more money from WhatsApp users, even at the cost of weakening the service’s encryption. With the two gone, Facebook now plans to integrate ads into WhatsApp’s Status posts—similar to how Facebook first integrated ads into Instagram’s feed in 2013.

Most recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been open about his desire to integrate Facebook (and Facebook Messenger), Instagram and WhatsApp. In January, the New York Times reported that Zuckerberg planned to have of Facebook’s apps share an underlying foundation. The change would allow users of any one of the services to chat with those on the other. It would also make it more difficult for Facebook’s competitors to compete, inviting antitrust questions.

Despite the one foundation, Facebook wants its core social network, Instagram, and WhatsApp to be separate apps.

Share to Facebook: What’s the potential harm?

Pam Dixon, the executive director of the privacy research group World Privacy Forum, is worried about the changes at WhatsApp.

“I’m not convinced WhatsApp having an on-ramp to Facebook is a good idea,” she said. According to Dixon, re-sharing a public photo from Instagram to Facebook is much different than re-sharing, often private, WhatsApp content to Facebook “There’s more congruence between a service like Instagram and Facebook than there is WhatsApp and Facebook,” Dixon said.

Dixon also noted WhatsApp’s global presence and how important adding to the app’s list of features can be. But those features come with dangers. The service’s forward feature, for example, has been used in places like India to spread fake news and in Brazil to sway elections. “WhatsApp has to be handled differently, with a deep of understanding of the full range of people using the service,” Dixon said.

Another concern is that WhatsApp’s design will be too aggressive in urging users to share content they otherwise wouldn’t. “If the feature launches, there will need to be careful analysis on how it’s designed,” Dixon said. “I haven’t seen how the feature is laid out, but if WhatsApp starts really nudging people to share to Facebook, then that’s going to be a problem.”

How can I access the WhatsApp status share button?

WhatsApp’s new Status share feature is being tested with a small set of users. Android users can test out new WhatsApp software here.

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