WhatsApp to allow cross-app chatting soon: is on the brink of a groundbreaking shift in its messaging service, poised to allow cross-platform communication with other messaging apps. This development promises to streamline communication for its massive user base of 2 billion individuals, eliminating the need for multiple app downloads. In an interview with Wired, Dick Brouwer, an engineering director at WhatsApp, shared insights into the platform’s strategy for interoperability with other messaging apps.
While an official launch timeline has yet to be announced, WhatsApp has hinted at revealing more details about its plans in the coming month. Here’s a rundown of what users can expect from this transformative update:
Two-Year Interoperability Project:
WhatsApp has dedicated approximately two years to developing interoperability features. This initiative gains significance as Meta, WhatsApp’s parent company, faces regulatory pressure under the EU’s Digital Markets Act to open up its messaging services within a specific timeframe.
Initial Focus on One-on-One Messaging:
Initially, interoperability will facilitate one-on-one messaging, allowing users to exchange messages, media, and files across different platforms. Group chats and calls will not be included in the initial rollout. Users will have the option to opt-in to activate this feature, with messages from other apps being segregated into a designated ‘third-party chats’ section to uphold WhatsApp’s stringent privacy standards.
Complexities of Security and Access:
The endeavor to enable cross-platform messaging presents intricate technical challenges, particularly for encrypted apps like WhatsApp. Addressing these challenges while safeguarding user security remains a priority. WhatsApp plans to release technical details in March for third-party integration, requiring companies to adhere to strict terms and agreements to connect their apps.
Preferred Encryption Protocol:
WhatsApp advocates for the adoption of the Signal encryption protocol by third-party apps. This protocol, already utilized by platforms like Google Messages and Skype, ensures secure communication. Apps will need to encrypt messages using Signal and package content into XML message formats for transmission, while also establishing connections with WhatsApp’s servers for message reception.
Collaborative Efforts and Technical Documentation:
WhatsApp emphasizes collaboration with other companies and will provide technical documentation to facilitate direct integration of third-party clients. Additionally, developers will have the option to utilize proxies between their apps and WhatsApp’s servers for enhanced flexibility.
Challenges in Securing Partnerships:
While WhatsApp has not disclosed specific platforms for interoperability, major messaging apps like Telegram, Signal, Snap, and Google have yet to comment on potential integration plans. Given the complexity of technical requirements, it may take time for third parties to implement these changes even after the release of guidance in March.
EU Mandate and Global Expansion Uncertainty:
EU regulations stipulate interoperability must be implemented within six months, though it remains uncertain whether this will initially apply solely to Europe or have global implications. WhatsApp has not clarified the global availability of the feature. Upon activation, users will notice a dedicated “third-party chats” section, as observed in WhatsApp beta versions.
Potential Implications for iMessage:
Apple’s iMessage may also face pressure to offer interoperability under EU regulations, though Apple has not commented on its plans. In the US, iMessage’s closed platform status has drawn scrutiny, with potential benefits of opening up including improved communication between iOS and Android users.
WhatsApp’s forthcoming changes hold significant promise for simplifying communication across platforms. However, successful implementation depends on third-party integration and addressing any privacy concerns that may arise from heightened security standards.