So last week the US government filed an Antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, on the basis of it’s ownership of Instagram and WhatsApp being monopolistic behavior meant to stifle out competition as well as increase Facebook’s own power. This is after a year full of court hearings for Facebook, whether in the company of other tech giants or alone, and the issue of Facebook’s social media monopoly has been a focus point dating back as far as 2015. But now that there’s the potential for Facebook to actually be broken up, with Instagram and WhatsApp being potentially spun off into separate companies, the question then arises of how it might affect you, the standard everyday user. And we put together some facts on just that.
No more “Free WhatsApp”
Now while a whole debate on what “free” means in the digital age, we have to acknowledge that soon after Facebook acquired it, WhatsApp became free, no longer charging a dollar after a year of usage for a license and instead becoming accessible to the minorities of people around the world that hadn’t given it a try yet. Now the reason why this happened is pretty obvious: Facebook cares about data. That’s it’s bread and butter next to advertising and it knows that more users equals more data. Removing the payment requirement not only gave them a slight uptick in users, but now they had lifelong users that could keep feeding them all the data they wanted. And with Facebook being removed from the reigns, this could mean paying for WhatsApp is back again. And while I’m not against the option of paying for it, it would be awfully inconvenient for everyone, and not to mention out of the reach of quite a lot as well, as even here in Zimbabwe you would have to make a plan when it came to purchasing a new WhatsApp license considering our messed up financial situation. It would however open the door for services like Telegram and Viber to jump back into the race, heck even Sasai would earn a boost here, so the point of increasing competition in the instant messaging space would prove true for the US government.
Or, data collection on WhatsApp gets worse.
Here’s a more unlikely but scarier scenario, what if this new independent WhatsApp that’s broken off from Facebook actually decides data is where the real money is and decides to mine some more user data to even directly compete with Facebook. After all they’ve likely got some experience on all this. And while Facebook wasn’t a saint about it’s data gathering on WhatsApp, it had to be more conservative about it due to the watchful eye it had over itself. This is why things like end-to-end encryption on chats where enabled as well, just so Facebook could prove it mainly got telemetry data from WhatsApp which is a lot less invasive. However without that same level of scrutiny on it, a smaller , more ambitious WhatsApp company could decide to gather a little more data just to gain more money, which would certainly mess with people’s privacy a lot more.
Instagram’s integration and continuity with Facebook
Now while not the biggest issue for everyone, there’s also the fact that Instagram over the past few years becoming much more integrated with the Facebook ecosystem, with following people across both platforms, shared credentials, and even more recently, Instagram’s DMs and Facebook messenger being unified, meaning you can message people across both platforms without any barriers, the first step to a unified messaging platform that will include WhatsApp too if the platforms aren’t split up. As I said before, this integration has been hit or miss for some, with some people preferring to keep their Facebook and Instagram accounts separate, while others simply didn’t even notice a lot of these features. Yet for those who did appreciate these benefits, they’ll be gone too, as an Instagram that is independent definitely wouldn’t get as many perks from Facebook, as Facebook would likely deem them public enemy number 1. The same kind of behavior that has led to this lawsuit in the first place.
And that’s pretty much the three biggest changes we can see coming to Instagram and WhatsApp for Zimbos if Facebook is relinquished of them. Again, this is a more complex issue than that, with reparations that permeate throughout Americas political, economic and even social sectors, and affect the rest of the world simply due to the power that Facebook has. It even makes one think as to how companies as powerful as Facebook can still be hampered or destroyed by a home country’s government, and definitely make on think of what would happen to Zimbabwean companies as well. And as for my thoughts on whether Facebook should be split up or not? Well that honestly depends, as there’s definite arguments for both sides. Facebook’s aggregation of the ad market is stringent for anyone not willing to play by their rules, and even we’ve had our own limitations advertising TZP on their platforms without paying (just look at our Twitter in comparison). But even for all their market power , I’m not sure breaking up WhatsApp and Instagram from Facebook is the best way to go about things, some could even argue that the company already moved itself into a corner when it bought those, which is why despite wanting to badly, it couldn’t buy TikTok. It’s a case that will require more deliberation (future podcast episode maybe?) and we’ll definitely share our thoughts and decisions on it in the coming articles.