WhatsApp, like many other major tech platforms, will have to make some significant changes to comply with the European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA). One of those changes is interoperability with other messaging platforms, a move WhatsApp engineering director Dick Brouwer explains in an interview with Wired.
The shift toward interoperability will first include text messages, images, voice messages, videos, and files sent from one person to another. In theory, this would allow users to chat with people on WhatsApp through third-party apps, like iMessage, Telegram, Google Messages, and Signal, and vice versa.
However, it all depends on whether other companies get on board, as there are still concerns about how the Meta-owned app will keep messages safe and encrypted when it starts incorporating other services.
As noted by Wired, WhatsApp wants the messaging services it connects with to use the same Signal Protocol to encrypt messages. Meta is also open to apps using alternate encryption protocols so long as companies can prove “they reach the security standards that WhatsApp outlines in its guidance.” The third-party services will also have to sign a contract with Meta before they plug into WhatsApp, with more details about the agreement coming in March.
“There’s real tension between offering an easy way to offer this interoperability to third parties, whilst at the same time preserving the WhatsApp privacy, security, and integrity bar,” Brouwer tells Wired. “I think we’re pretty happy with where we’ve landed.”
WhatsApp is making the change because Meta is considered a “digital gatekeeper” under the DMA. That means it must follow a set of rules aimed at promoting competition between different digital services. Although the DMA officially went into effect last year, the EU is giving gatekeepers like Meta until March 2024 to comply. We still don’t know whether these changes will go into effect only in the EU, or if they will be available in other parts of the world. The Verge reached out to WhatsApp with a request for comment but didn’t immediately hear back.
We got a glimpse at what third-party messaging might look like on WhatsApp when WABetaInfo spotted a new “Third-party chats” section last year. That finding tracks with what Brouwer tells Wired, as he says users who enable the feature will get messages from other platforms in a new section of their inbox. WhatsApp is planning to reveal more about its plans next month and will have “several months” to roll out the change.