Meta details plans to open WhatsApp and Messenger to third-party platforms in the EU while maintaining privacy

WhatsApp running on an iPhone
(Image credit: Future)

The effects of the European Union's Digital Markets Act, which goes into force on March 7, are being felt by technology companies as they ready themselves for the changes being forced upon them. Apple has already released iOS 17.4 with support for third-party app stores and more while Meta has now also shared details about how it intends to offer interoperability for its WhatsApp and Messenger instant messaging platforms.

As part of the DMA messaging gatekeepers like Meta must allow competing platforms to hook into their systems should they want to. That could mean that one day, people will be able to send and receive WhatsApp messages from within other apps like Signal or Telegram — and maybe even the iPhone's Messages app — but that will require a ton of work on both sides. And while the DMA requires that companies allow interoperability, it also requires that they do not weaken security in the name of making it possible. That means that there are some unique challenges associated with opening the floodgates to other companies and their messaging platforms.

That's something that Meta is well aware of, and it's shared details ahead of March 7 that detail how it intends to make all of this happen. It also shared a Reference Offer that it says third-party providers can use as an outline for what will be required to interoperate with its services.

Encryption assured

Meta detailed its plans in a lengthy and technical post on its blog, explaining that the DMA requires "that designated messaging services must let third-party messaging services become interoperable, provided the third-party meets a series of eligibility, including technical and security requirements." Meta, and the DMA, also require that end-to-end encryption be maintained even when interoperability has been enabled which is a key point here. "The DMA quite rightly makes it a legal requirement that we should not weaken security provided to Meta’s own users," Meta explains.

The post goes on, saying that "this allows users of third-party providers who choose to enable interoperability (interop) to send and receive messages with opted-in users of either Messenger or WhatsApp – both designated by the European Commission (EC) as being required to independently provide interoperability to third-party messaging services." The post continues, saying that Meta has been working with the European Commission for two years to find a way to implement interoperability that "meets the requirements of the law and maximizes the security, privacy and safety of users."

The first phase of the requirement, in year one, will require " 1:1 text messaging between individual users and the sharing of images, voice messages, videos, and other attached files between individual end users," Meta explains. "In the future, requirements expand to group functionality and calling."

Meta says that third-party providers will sign an agreement with Messenger and/or WhatsApp to enable interoperability and that it's sharing a version of one of those to give companies an idea of what to expect.

"Today we’ll publish the WhatsApp Reference Offer for third-party providers which will outline what will be required to interoperate with the service," Meta explains. "The Reference Offer for Messenger will follow in due course."

As a result of the DMA, Meta must be ready to enable interoperability within three months of receiving a request from another messaging provider, but it warns that it could take longer before the functionality is ready for public consumption. The blog post then details the technical situation and requirements

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Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.