FTC Could Block Facebook’s Plans to Integrate Instagram and WhatsApp

Posted on December 13, 2019 by Mehedi Hassan in Social with 11 Comments

Earlier this year, Facebook announced a major privacy-focused transformation that would involve the company bringing all of its major social networks together. The multi-year long plan would involve the social network giant unifying the infrastructure behind Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook.

The integration would allow Facebook to unify all three of its social networks, allowing people to communicate with each other across all the different apps.

As it turns out, though, Facebook may face some legal problems. New York Times is reporting that the FTC is weighing an injunction against Facebook to stop the integration from happening. The commission fears the integration could make it harder to break up Facebook in the future.

Facebook is already being investigated by the FTC over antitrust concerns, and if Facebook is found to be anti-competitive in the market, breaking up the company could potentially be an option. That would already be quite difficult and “uncommon” to do as the FTC would have to undo the mergers of Instagram and WhatsApp that have already been closed years ago.

And if Facebook is to integrate the infrastructure behind the three apps, breaking up the company in the future would make things even more complex. FTC is yet to make a final decision about the injunction, but there are a ton of legalities involved here, and it could still affect the FTC’s ongoing investigation against Facebook.

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Comments (11)

11 responses to “FTC Could Block Facebook’s Plans to Integrate Instagram and WhatsApp”

  1. minke

    Facebook seems determined to chase everyone away who isn't interested in being force fed content that we don't want to see and/or is completely fake.

  2. Andi

    Facebook should focus on making the western hemisphere's version of wechat. Leave insta alone and focus on mergin whatsapp and fb messenger.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Andi:

      The proble, is, WhatsApp is technically illegal in Europe, because of the GDPR - specifically no business can use WhatsApp legally and any employee with it on their company phone or on a private phone with company contacts on it could lead to their employer facing a breach of the GDPR.

      Speficially: most chat services upload a hash of the phone numbers to see if other users on the serice are known to the new user and joins them together. WhatsApp, on the other hand, illegally uploads all of the contact information for all the people in the user's phonebook, including full names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses etc. (they can only do this if every person in the phonebook has given their written permission to upload the data). Not bad enough, it then breaks GDPR again by then storing the data on a server outside the EU (in the USA).

      • karlinhigh

        In reply to wright_is:

        Hmm. How does hashing phone numbers before uploading avoid the GPDR violation? Phone numbers are a known format, surely it couldn't be hard to make "rainbow tables" for all of them, reversing the hash?

        I'm pretty dim on the inner workings of both WhatsApp and the GPDR, I must be misunderstanding something.

        • IanYates82

          In reply to karlinhigh:

          Probably salting... Although then if every user has a unique hash due to the salting, it's not going to match anything else.

          Good question!

          Maybe it's related to the k-Anonymity section Troy Hunt discusses in his blog post about his Pwned Passwords service and how it lets you check a password without actually sending him your password's entire hash - https://www.troyhunt.com/ive-just-launched-pwned-passwords-version-2/ ?

          Or maybe WhatsApp is just doing the wrong thing here and that's it :(

          • karlinhigh

            In reply to IanYates82:

            It turns out this is actually a "hard computer science problem." The Signal people describe their struggles with it:

            "...the hash of a user identifier can almost always be inverted. Regardless of whether the identifier is a phone number, a user name, or an email address, the “keyspace” of all possible identifiers is too small."


            They go on to do what they can about this, something involving an Intel SGX Secure Enclave on the messaging server.

      • Andi

        In reply to wright_is:

        You said that whatsapp "illegally" uploads. How is it illegally when it asks for your specific permission?

        Nothing the size of whatsapp can function illegally in Europe. That's bonkers.

        • karlinhigh

          In reply to Andi: How is it illegally when it asks for your specific permission?


          (they can only do this if every person in the phonebook has given their written permission to upload the data)


          • Andi

            In reply to karlinhigh:

            The moment you gave your number to a friend it's the moment you risk it becoming public without your control. The same thing with said friend that knows your email address and uses it to "recommend" you some spam.

  3. Thom77

    "Could" is the most relevant word in this article.

  4. codymesh

    sure, the FTC that allowed yet another telecom merger is going to totally do this.

    i'll believe it when I see it