Facebook reportedly plans to merge messaging in Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp

By Sophie Lewis

/ CBS News

Don't worry — your favorite apps aren't going anywhere. But Mark Zuckerberg reportedly has a plan to integrate three popular Facebook-owned messaging apps — Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger — under a single underlying messaging platform or protocol. As CNET reports, this could allow users to communicate across each of the company's diverse chat systems more easily.

According to The New York Times, the goal is complete the project by the end of 2019 or early 2020. The effort reportedly requires thousands of Facebook employees to completely rework how the three platforms function from the ground up.

While each service would maintain its standalone app, the new unified backend would support end-to-end encryption, which allows for secure messaging — one of WhatsApp's main appeals. End-to-end encryption protects messages from being viewed by anyone outside of the conversation. With a merged platforms, an Instagram user could send a private message to a WhatsApp user, a process not currently available.

"We want to build the best messaging experiences we can; and people want messaging to be fast, simple, reliable and privacy," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "We're working on making more of our messaging products end-to-end encrypted and considering ways to make it easier to reach friends and family across networks. As you would expect, there is a lot of discussion and debate as we begin the long process of figuring out all the details of how this will work."

The merger sounds practical, but the idea may raise concerns for some users who are already wary of the company's privacy and security challenges. For example, WhatsApp accounts — which only require a phone number to sign up — are relatively anonymous, but linking that account with personal Facebook or Instagram account may lead to further privacy issues. While end-to-end encryption provides security for users, Facebook has been lax about safeguarding users' privacy in the past. And by combining its users and incentivizing them to remain on the platform, Facebook can tout higher engagement to advertisers and control a higher share of the messaging market, which is still heavily dominated by Google and Apple.

There are various reasons to keep the front-facing apps separate. They currently serve vastly different markets. WhatsApp is predominantly used internationally for one-to-one or small group messaging, similar to iMessage. Additionally, Instagram's audience skews far younger than Facebook's.

From a strictly technical perspective, combining the backends of each app is a practical move. But from a security perspective, it could make users' data more vulnerable, since hackers who compromised one could use the shared backend to infiltrate the others.

Merging the three messaging platforms would be a reversal of Zuckerberg's initial stance. When Facebook acquired Instagram and WhatsApp, he promised the companies relative autonomy within Facebook. But the apps have experienced shakeups as of late. In 2017, WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton left Facebook, later saying, "I sold my users' privacy to a larger benefit." His cofounder Jan Koum left in April 2018. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, co-founders of Instagram, stepped down in Sept. 2018.

According to the New York Times, Zuckerberg now believes a unified backend will make all of Facebook's app more useful in the long term.

Additional reporting by Dan Patterson.

First published on January 25, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

FBI's Wray sends video to agents amid shutdown struggle

Wray acknowledged it may seem as though the FBI has been silent on the shutdown, which affects many of its agents, but said that it has been working on the problem on every level — outside the view of the press

updated 14M ago

Trump expected to back a move to reopen government – live updates

He's expected to announce this development on the government shutdown at the White House Friday afternoon, although some details are still being worked out

updated 15M ago

Federal workers speak out about the shutdown: "We're being used as pawns"

"This has been incredibly stressful," said Sarah Pinter, who didn't expect to be furloughed from her first "real" job after graduating from college

updated 31M ago

"The Happiness Project" author on how to combat loneliness

One in 10 Americans say they feel lonely or isolated from those around them all or most of the time, according to a Pew Research Center survey

updated 33M ago

Roger Stone leaves court to chants of "lock him up"

Roger Stone, arrested and indicted on seven charges, was released on $250,000 bond Friday

1H ago

FBI's Wray sends video to agents amid shutdown struggle

Wray acknowledged it may seem as though the FBI has been silent on the shutdown, which affects many of its agents, but said that it has been working on the problem on every level — outside the view of the press

updated 14M ago

Trump expected to back a move to reopen government – live updates

He's expected to announce this development on the government shutdown at the White House Friday afternoon, although some details are still being worked out

updated 15M ago

Federal workers speak out about the shutdown: "We're being used as pawns"

"This has been incredibly stressful," said Sarah Pinter, who didn't expect to be furloughed from her first "real" job after graduating from college

updated 31M ago

Roger Stone leaves court to chants of "lock him up"

Roger Stone, arrested and indicted on seven charges, was released on $250,000 bond Friday

1H ago

Air traffic controllers union sounds alarm

"Each hour that goes by that the shutdown continues makes the situation worse"

updated 32M ago

Australians suffer as heatwave knocks out power, fuels fires

Dizzying temps well over 110 degrees are setting records across the country as drought parched lands are scorched by wildfire

3H ago

U.K. lawmakers' Brexit standoff appears to irk Queen Elizabeth

Monarch barred from voicing political opinions, but call for Britain to seek "common ground" seen as rebuke of feuding British lawmakers

3H ago

Iran says U.S. Navy veteran jailed on "private complaint"

Tehran had previously given no info on detention of Michael White, whose family fear for his wellbeing as he was undergoing cancer treatment

6H ago

How could Trump's Venezuela policy impact the U.S.?

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro severed ties with the U.S. after President Trump endorsed an opposition leader as interim president

6H ago

U.S. orders some diplomats to leave Venezuela

After U.S. President Trump recognized Venezuela's chief opposition leader, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro severed ties with the U.S.

13H ago

"Princess Diaries 3" in the works

In the words of Mia Thermopolis: "Shut. Up."

1H ago

Special edition of "CBS Sunday Morning" celebrates its 40th birthday

The January 27 broadcast looks at the people, the moments, and the milestones from the series' first four decades

2H ago

Kate Hudson on her "genderless" approach to raising kids

Hudson and Danny Fujikawa's daughter, Rani, is named after Fujikawa's father, Ron

5H ago

Meek Mill, Jay-Z and others launch initiative for criminal justice reform

According to the Reform Alliance, 4.5 million people are currently on parole or probation for unreasonable terms

Jan 24

Dad and son dance to "Frozen" in viral video

When his son wanted to dance to "Frozen" songs, this dad put on an Elsa costume – because it's important to just "let it go" and be yourself

Jan 24

Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp functions may merge

Don't worry — your favorite apps aren't going anywhere

updated 7M ago

Alligators freeze with noses above water

The Swamp Park manager said 18 alligators froze Monday night and stayed frozen all day Tuesday

2H ago

New Horizons beams back best image yet of Ultima Thule

NASA's New Horizons probe has sent back more photos from the far side of the solar system, a billion miles past Pluto

20H ago

15 senators demand FCC, FTC investigate carriers selling location data

The demand comes after a report found carriers such as AT&T were selling data to buyers such as bounty hunters

20H ago

Scammers impersonating YouTube stars

Video platform says it's working to shut down a scheme targeting fans of popular content creators

22H ago

"The Happiness Project" author on how to combat loneliness

One in 10 Americans say they feel lonely or isolated from those around them all or most of the time, according to a Pew Research Center survey

updated 33M ago

Whole Foods recalls wraps, other products with spinach due to salmonella risk

Ready-to-eat products sold at the grocery chain's stores in eight states may be contaminated by bacterial infection

2H ago

Sackler family, tied to prestigious institutions, quiet on opioid crisis accusations

Their name is attached to the Guggenheim and the Met, among others, but what you don't often find it publicly tied to is the pharmaceutical company it built

5H ago

Superintendent charged with fraud for helping teen speaks out

Casey Smitherman was arrested after using her own insurance to help a sick student

18H ago

Study links gum disease bacteria to Alzheimer's

Scientists found the key pathogen of gum disease in the brains of people with Alzheimer's, but other experts caution more research is needed to understand the connection

18H ago

Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp functions may merge

Don't worry — your favorite apps aren't going anywhere

updated 7M ago

Whole Foods recalls wraps, other products with spinach due to salmonella risk

Ready-to-eat products sold at the grocery chain's stores in eight states may be contaminated by bacterial infection

2H ago

Shutdown's drag to worsen, economists warn

The negative impact on GDP will double for every week the impasse continues, Bank of America economists warn

updated 33M ago

Wells Fargo CEO: Not paying fed workers is "completely embarrassing"

The government shutdown hit day 35 on Friday, marking the second missed paycheck for federal workers

3H ago

Tubbs Fire report complicates PG&E's bankruptcy decision

A state report finding the utility's equipment wasn't to blame could hamper lawsuits and complicate a planned bankruptcy

5H ago

Roger Stone leaves court to chants of "lock him up"

Roger Stone, arrested and indicted on seven charges, was released on $250,000 bond Friday

1H ago

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort appears in federal court

The president's former campaign chairman appeared in federal court the same day as Trump associate Roger Stone

2H ago

Judge OK's high-profile new defense team for Weinstein

One of Harvey Weinstein's new lawyers is Jose Baez, best known for representing Casey Anthony, Florida mom acquitted in daughter's death

2H ago

Mueller indicts Trump associate Roger Stone

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said this has "nothing to do with the president and certainly nothing to do with the White House"

1H ago

Florida bank shooting: Newlywed among the dead

Names of 4 of the 5 victims have been made public; authorities say the accused gunman didn't appear to know any of them

7H ago