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Have messenger-itis with too many apps to keep track of? Solutions are in the works, but they will take time to get right

Technology / analysis
Have messenger-itis with too many apps to keep track of? Solutions are in the works, but they will take time to get right
Meta's WhatsApp is working on becoming interoperable with other messenger apps under EU's DMA law.
Meta's WhatsApp is working on becoming interoperable with other messenger apps under EU's DMA law.

New Zealand being a long distance away from the European Union, we often forget the bloc is a huge power with a population of around 448 million people, even after Britain leaving. And, big markets have big sway.

The EU is very interested in matters digital, and in September last year, Regulation 2022/1925 or the Digital Markets Act (DMA) kicked in. The DMA designates six tech giants as “digital gatekeepers” that operate different platforms.

Google parent Alphabet is a digital gatekeeper, along with Amazon, Apple, TikTok owner ByteDance, Meta/Facebook, and Microsoft. Naming those companies ropes in most of the popular platforms people use, from social networks to app stores, web browsers, digital advertising, search engines, messaging, operating systems and even YouTube video sharing.

Under the DMA, the EU has now placed an obligation on the over-the-top (OTT, as they’re not dependent on telco networks and use the Internet instead) communications platforms owned by the digital gatekeepers to be interoperable. That is, if you use Facebook Messenger, and I’m on WhatsApp, it should be possible for us to communicate with one another, even though we’re using different apps.

That is not the case currently, and UK market research company Juniper wrote in its most recent Top 10 Telco Trends 2024 report that “the introduction of interoperability will have significant impacts for the wider A2P (application-to-person) messaging market, as it will eliminate the constraints of fragmentation on the EU’s OTT business messaging market”.

Juniper said enterprises will be able to interact with consumers regardless of the OTT messenger app used. Furthermore, Juniper notes that in just 12 months, the price of A2P SMS texts has gone up between 50% and 500% across different networks. If businesses can instead send A2P messages over OTT apps, there’s money to be saved. So yes, there’s definite value in interoperability for businesses. 

For consumers, the value is that they can stick with the messaging app/s they like, or swap to another one to avoid platform lock-in and still be able to communicate with everyone else, from friends to businesses.

That all sounds great. Who wouldn’t want to clean out all the rarely used messaging apps that some friends and organisations insist on using? Furthermore, if the digital gatekeepers don’t sort out interoperability, they risk huge EU fines of up to 10% of their annual turnover.

It’s not so easy unfortunately. First reported by Wired in the United States, Meta’s WhatsApp has started work on messenger interoperability.

If WhatsApp succeeds with interoperability, it would have a major impact on messaging as the app has something like two billion users worldwide.

As you’d expect, WhatsApp will probably first be interoperable with Facebook Messenger, as that’s also owned by Meta. Not all features will work across both messaging apps to start with, and calls and group chats won’t be possible for a while yet.

Integrating messenger apps is much more complex than it can appear at first glance. The underlying digital protocols that make communication between apps possible have to be fully compatible with each other. 

One all-important security and privacy feature, end-to-end encryption, depends on that compatibility. Communications going over the Internet needs to be encrypted, or users’ messaging will be at risk of being intercepted. (On the flipside, the police and security services disagree, and have continued to insist on “backdoors” in communications protocols to allow them to lawfully intercept calls and messages, but that’s another story).

Meta and WhatsApp want developers to use the open source Signal protocol which offers end-to-end encryption and is highly regarded. This was developed by researchers Trevor Perrin and Moxie Marlinspike in 2013, at Open Whisper Systems, and has been audited by Oxford University, Queensland University of Technology and McMaster University in Canada, as being cryptographically sound.

Whether companies that don’t use the Signal protocol would swap to it is far from certain, despite Meta’s market power with WhatsApp and Messenger; having all the big companies use the same protocol could also stifle innovation, cryptographers warn, as for example startups would have to make do with the protocol feature set on offer if they want their apps to talk to those from say, Google and Meta.

This could lead to communications apps that are too similar to each other, which in turn might be a recipe for market consolidation with one of the bigger players becoming too dominant.

Then there’s the issue of bugs and security vulnerabilities, which could affect a much larger part of the market under the DMA-enforced interoperability regime.

Related to the above is The Green Bubble vs Blue Bubble Battle. 

That is, Ye Olde Short Messaging Service (SMS) against Apple’s iMessage. One’s old tech that’s very limited, like 140 characters maximum, and with stiff charges if you use more as texts will be sent as Multimedia Messages (MMS) instead. It’s not very secure either.

The other offers great new features, encryption, and is only available on Apple devices, like iPhones, iPads and Macs. Apple has been very reluctant to open up iMessage to the outside world. It fought hard against the Beeper app which tried to make iMessages available on Android-based devices, and succeeded in locking out the interloper.

However, Apple’s under pressure from the EU to ensure its services are interoperable. While it’s yet undecided under the DMA if iMessage has to be interoperable, Apple has started talking about offering support for the newer Rich Communications Protocol (RCS) in iMessages, possibly as soon as this year.

That would mean no more green bubbles for iPhone users, as Google offers RCS support in its Android operating system.

Messaging interoperability is desirable, but it comes with serious risks to be aware of. The law of unintended consequences very much applies here.

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We already have a universal messaging standard, it's XMPP.

That is, if you use Facebook Messenger, and I’m on WhatsApp, it should be possible for us to communicate with one another, even though we’re using different apps.

When Facebook Messenger ran on XMPP, I could message my friends from my Pidgin client, because open standards work like that.


Exactly, was using that back in 2011 and worked with everything I needed at the time.


I remember Jabber, and it's interesting that we went from federated to centralised architecture for messaging. 


They only want them to be standardised so that when they come to shut down your account they shut down all your accounts. 


interoperability = ability to shut down all your accounts? sorry what??


Really good article by Juha.

While the world works out these issues, I just keep using



Oh, hell no!

If they all become interoperable, it means not only will your client read what you're messaging, but the pipe to a different client at the other end will as well: not one, but two opportunities to harvest your data.

When I ask a friend who installed their heating system, I'm tired of being creeped on by Google or Meta so they can immediately start showing me ads for heatpumps.

It's why I use Signal as they don't read what you're writing and Proton for my email for the same reason. Not sure how Signal would deal with an interoperability requirement.