The New York Times broke the news last week that Facebook plans to unify the pipes of its three massively-popular messaging apps.

As the Times and other news outlets were quick to point out, the technical merger raises a myriad of questions about privacy, security, and government regulation. It also suggests that when it comes to staving off its messaging rivals, Facebook sees strength in numbers.

WhatsApp me on Instagram 📲

Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram boast 2.6 billion users between them. They will continue to exist as separate apps, but Facebook’s integration plan will make it possible for users to communicate with each other across all three channels.

It’s not yet clear what this means from a data privacy perspective. Mark Zuckerberg has reportedly “ordered” that all three apps incorporate end-to-end encryption, which only WhatsApp can claim at the moment.

Moreover, WhatsApp lets users sign up with only a phone number, while Facebook (and, by extension, Messenger) requires users to use a single “real-world” identity. Many Instagram users, meanwhile, have multiple accounts for different purposes.

Legislators were quick to raise alarm bells, with EU regulators seeking “early assurances” that the merger will be GDPR-compliant and U.S. Senator Ed Markey, a longtime Facebook critic, waxing poetic:

"We cannot allow platform integration to become privacy disintegration."

All in the family 👩‍👦‍👦

Axios notes that “Facebook’s integration plan is all about improving interoperability among its own 'family of apps.'"

Zuckerberg has called Apple Facebook’s biggest competitor in the messaging space, and bundling his messaging platforms together into one giant user base is a way to challenge iMessage’s ubiquity among iPhone users.

Apple, meanwhile, has been under increased pressure to bring iMessage to Android phones — and is reportedly “in discussions” to support RCS, the next generation text messaging standard backed by Google.

Of course, Google and Apple have their own beef over the future of business messaging, which you can read all about in my latest article for The Next Web.

But if any common enemy could unite these Big Tech rivals, it’s Facebook. That may be what’s prompted Zuckerberg to create a massive messaging ecosystem all his own.

As Smooch CTO Mike Gozzo told AdWeek:

"It’s a big threat to Facebook and other messaging apps. This combination gives them a very viable shot to compete."

New year, new messaging apps

Have you heard of TikTok? I must admit I hadn’t until a millennial colleague put me in my place.

Turns out the Vine-like video-sharing app has 500 million active users around the world, and recently unveiled a messaging-oriented spinoff.

Tech in Asia reports that the new app is called Duashon and looks a whole lot like Snapchat. It’s currently focused on China, where TikTok is based, prompting the usual speculation about whether it can lure young users from WeChat, the Tencent-owned app that dominates the Chinese messaging market.

Squad goals 🙌

TikTok, though, is so 2018. The newest messaging app on the block is called Squad, and it’s being billed as “the next teen sensation.”

Squad allows users to video chat with up to six people while sharing screens, so they can scroll Instagram, swipe through Tinder, or do whatever one might do on their mobile phone — together.

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine predicts that Squad may become a digital “third place” where teen girls can hang out outside school or each other’s homes, just as the viral online game Fortnite has become for adolescent boys.

Squad CEO Esther Crawford says Facebook and Snap employees have signed up in droves, presumably to spy on and copy the startup’s features. So it may not be long before this type of distracted hangout is as routine a part of the modern messaging experience as typing indicators.

Constine suggests that may not be a bad thing:

"A few people, alone in their houses, video chatting without looking at each other, still feel a sense of togetherness."

This is an excerpt from The Message, Smooch’s biweekly newsletter about the messaging industry, chatbots and conversational commerce. Subscribe to get the next edition delivered straight to your inbox.