The messaging apps will continue to operate as separate businesses, but the idea is to allow people across those services to contact each other; use your Facebook Messenger account to contact a WhatsApp user, for example.
The move will not be easy. WhatsApp has supported end-to-end encryption by default since 2016 and has tangled with government officials over providing access to its customers' messages. Facebook Messenger encryption takes the form of "Secret Conversations," but people have to turn it on, and it can break certain app functionality. Instagram does not offer end-to-end encryption.
This unification also raises questions of data privacy. When Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, CEO Mark Zuckerberg stressed that the two services would remain independent of their parent company. But any sort of platform merge will require a merging of user accounts. As the Times notes, WhatsApp only requests a phone number for sign-ups, whereas Facebook and Instagram require a "real" identity.
"Matching Facebook and Instagram users to their WhatsApp handles could give pause to those who prefer keeping their use of each app compartmentalized," the Times says.
Among those who wanted to keep these apps compartmentalized were the founders of WhatsApp and Instagram, all of whom have left in recent months. WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum quit in April reportedly due to disputes with Zuckerberg over privacy issues, like weakening WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption. Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger followed suit in September.
Facebook told the Times that it is "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."
According to the Times, Facebook wants to more effectively compete against Apple's iMessage and Google's Rich Communication Services (RCS) to become the go-to messaging app.