WhatsApp plans to interoperate with other messaging apps so that you can chat with anyone without switching apps. Adarsh tells you all about it.

WhatsApp is all set to make another significant breakthrough with regards to chatting as it seems set to integrate itself with other similar apps and become a master messaging app of sorts. As of today, WhatsApp has over 2 billion active users but with this change, they hope to acquire a significant number of new users.

However, this is a major shift in their policy as the Meta-owned app has been very guarded so far when it comes to their encryption.

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When is this likely to happen

WhatsApp have been working on this integration for the past 2 years now. According to Dick Brouwer, an engineering director at WhatsApp, this move has been fast tracked after Meta was designated as the ‘gatekeeper’ company under the European Union’s Digital Markets Act. The Act requires the company to open up its messaging services within six months.

No Group Chats Initially

At least for the foreseeable future, the cross-platform integration will be limited to one-on-one messaging. It will allow WhatsApp users to exchange messages, images, videos and files with users on other messaging apps but for the time being there will be no option for group chats or calls.

Users will have to opt in to avail this feature. Additionally, messages with other apps will be stored in a separate section – something like third party chats – instead of the main inbox where regular WhatsApp messages are stored. This is to maintain WhatsApp’s high security standards.

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Why this is a Security Nightmare

Enabling cross-platform messaging is a very complex process because of the encryption algorithms that WhatsApp currently has. Opening that up to other apps would make it easier for virus attacks.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that other apps have different security protocols and privacy standards. According to Brouwer, there is “real tension” in opening up access while preserving security.

WhatsApp plans to publish technical details for third parties to integrate with its system in March. Companies will have to sign an agreement and follow WhatsApp’s terms to connect their apps.

Which Encryption Protocol will they Use

In order to safeguard their privacy, WhatsApp would require all the other apps to follow an encryption protocol. The company’s preferred choice is Signal’s encryption which is already used publicly by apps like Google Messages and Skype.

To employ this while sending messages, the third-party apps would be required to encrypt via Signal and package the content into XML message formals. And for receiving messages, they would need to connect to WhatsApp’s servers.

There will also be options for proxies between their apps and WhatsApp’s server, if the developers want more flexibility.

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Getting all Other Apps Onboard

The European Union’s Digital Markets Act has stressed on interoperability within 6 months. But so far, it’s not clear which apps would be joining. Major players like Telegram, Signal, Snap and Google are believed to be onboard but as of now, none of them have confirmed or commented on their plans.

With all the technicalities required in integrating the platforms, the apps are waiting for WhatsApp to publish the guidelines this month.

Will Apple’s iMessage be joining?

One of the major questions since the Act was passed is whether Apple would join in. However, under the Act, iMessage also requires to offer interoperability.

There is also separate scrutiny in the US regarding facilitating communication between iOS and Android users. Whether this happens remains to be seen.

The Last Word

For the end user, interoperability would solve a lot of problems. Apart from the convenience aspect, it would also mean having less apps on their phones which would free up a lot of storage space.

For WhatsApp, this would mean adding a lot of users onboard which is definitely a good thing but as mentioned earlier, it is a security and encryption nightmare until all other apps are onboard and everything is streamlined.

As of now, it is unclear whether the launch in 6 months would only be in Europe or across the world. The best guess is that since the Act requires interoperability in Europe, they would launch the feature there and then open it up globally.

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Adarsh hates personal bios, Chelsea football club and Oxford commas. When he's not writing, he's busy playing FIFA on his PlayStation.

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