Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (left) with EU parliament president Antonio Tajani in May 2018. (Credit: Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock)

You may think that with about 2.2 billion monthly active users, Facebook is not wanting for a larger audience any time soon. With these kinds of numbers, the social network and its Messenger texting app cast a long shadow over all of the competition. But according to a new report, the company is preparing to put Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram onto a single unified platform, under the hood.

Multiple sources speaking confidentially to The New York Times divulged that the project is intended to be done as early as this year. With this setup, the three apps would remain as separate downloads, but they would essentially be three different portals to a single underlying service.

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According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, most Americans are not even aware that Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014 (a decision that one of WhatsApp's co-founders now regrets), but the three platforms are apparently on the verge of getting a lot cozier.

In a statement to the Times, Facebook said that it was "considering ways to make it easier to reach friends and family across networks." One of the newspaper's sources suggests that the social network may intend to bring the lucrative Facebook Marketplace to its two subsidiaries, though others were puzzled by the proposed consolidation, given past statements by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that were in favor of independence.

One possibility is that the combined user base of all three apps will increase the appeal to advertisers and potential content partners. Instagram claims over 1 billion monthly active users, and WhatsApp claims over 1.5 billion. Of course, there's a lot of unavoidable overlap -- but putting everything under one roof may allow Facebook to quantify exactly how many people are in its audience.

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However, as the Times points out, WhatsApp is a different beast, with end-to-end encryption enabled by default, unlike Instagram and Facebook Messenger. It also only asks for your phone number, while Facebook demands confirmation of your full legal name and identity. If these apps are going to be three different faces of the same underlying service, something will have to give.

Takeaways

  • The New York Times reports that Facebook intends to make Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram into different faces of the same underlying messaging service, possibly before the end of this year.
  • Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014; the three platforms represent billions of monthly active users that may be more enticing to advertisers and content partners if they are all linked together under the hood.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.