SAN FRANCISCO • Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg plans to integrate the social network's messaging services - WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger - asserting his control over the company's sprawling divisions at a time when its business has been battered by scandals.
The move, described by four people involved in the effort, requires thousands of Facebook employees to reconfigure how WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger function at their most basic levels.
While all three services will continue operating as stand-alone apps, their underlying messaging infrastructure will be unified, the people said. Facebook is still in the early stages of the work and plans to complete it by the end of this year or in early 2020, they said.
Mr Zuckerberg has also ordered all of the apps to incorporate end-to-end encryption, the people said, a significant step that protects messages from being viewed by anyone, except the participants in the conversation.
After the changes take effect, a Facebook user could send an encrypted message to someone who has only a WhatsApp account, for example. Currently, that is not possible because the apps are separate.
By stitching the apps' infrastructure together, Mr Zuckerberg wants to increase the utility of the social network, keeping its billions of users highly engaged inside its ecosystem.
If people turn more regularly to Facebook-owned properties for texting, they may forgo rival messaging services, such as those from Apple and Google, said the people, who declined to be identified because the moves are confidential.
Mr Zuckerberg had floated the integration idea for months and began promoting it more heavily to employees towards the end of last year, said people involved in the move.
If users interact more frequently with Facebook's apps, the company may also be able to build up its advertising business or add new services to make money, they said.
In a statement, Facebook said it wanted to "build the best messaging experiences we can; and people want messaging to be fast, simple, reliable and private".
It added: "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."
Mr Zuckerberg's move to take more control of Facebook's disparate businesses follows two years of scrutiny of its core social network, which has been criticised for allowing election meddling and the spread of disinformation.
Those and other issues have slowed Facebook's growth and damaged its reputation, raising the hackles of lawmakers and regulators around the globe. Mr Zuckerberg has repeatedly apologised and vowed to fix the problems.
Knitting together Facebook's apps is a stark reversal of Mr Zuckerberg's previous stance towards WhatsApp and Instagram, which were independent companies that he acquired.
At the time that Facebook bought the firms, Mr Zuckerberg promised WhatsApp and Instagram plenty of autonomy from its parent company. Facebook Messenger was a home-grown messaging service spun out of the main Facebook app in 2014.
WhatsApp and Instagram have since grown tremendously, prompting a change in Mr Zuckerberg's thinking, said one of the people.
He now believes that tighter integration will benefit Facebook's entire "family of apps" over the long term by making them more useful, the person said.
Mr Zuckerberg had floated the integration idea for months and began promoting it more heavily to employees towards the end of last year, the people said.
The effort has caused internal strife, and was a factor in the recent abrupt departures of Instagram's and WhatsApp's founders.