By Alex Heath for The Information
In a big shift, Facebook plans to signal its control of Instagram and WhatsApp by adding its name to both apps, according to three people familiar with the matter. The social network will rebrand the apps to “Instagram from Facebook” and “WhatsApp from Facebook,” the people said.
Employees for the apps were recently notified about the changes, which come as antitrust regulators are examining Facebook’s acquisitions of both apps. The app rebranding is a major departure for Facebook, which until recently had allowed the apps to operate and be branded independently. The distance has helped both apps avoid being tarnished by the privacy scandals that have hurt Facebook. The move to add Facebook’s name to the apps has been met with surprise and confusion internally, reflecting the autonomy that the units have operated under.
But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also been frustrated that Facebook doesn’t get more credit for the growth of Instagram and WhatsApp. Associating those apps with Facebook could improve the overall companies’ brand with consumers.
Bertie Thomson, a Facebook spokeswoman, confirmed the branding change to Instagram and WhatsApp. “We want to be clearer about the products and services that are part of Facebook,” she told The Information, noting that the company uses similar branding for other products like Workplace, its enterprise chat tool.
The ‘from Facebook’ branding will be visible inside the apps—users will see it when they log on, for instance—and elsewhere, such as in app stores.
Zuckerberg has in recent months rallied his lieutenants to unify the messaging systems behind the company’s apps, with the goal of allowing users to communicate across them. The company has also taken steps over the past year to exert more influence over both organizations. The co-founders of both WhatsApp and Instagram abruptly departed Facebook last year, and Zuckerberg has replaced them with veteran Facebook executives who now report to him.
In another sign that Facebook is bringing what employees internally refer to as its “family of apps” closer together, employees responsible for Instagram’s messaging feature called Direct were recently notified that they will report into the team behind Facebook’s standalone Messenger app, according to a person familiar with the matter. Thomson declined to comment.
While the undertaking to connect the apps presents significant technical challenges, Facebook hopes that letting users message across its apps will open up more opportunities for e-commerce and keep users loyal to its messaging ecosystem.
Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 when the photo-sharing app had tens of millions of users and was growing quickly. Two years later, Facebook paid $22 billion to buy the messaging service WhatsApp, which at the time had 600 million monthly users. The deals cemented Facebook’s dominance in the global social media landscape, and both apps play an increasingly important role in Facebook’s future growth prospects. Both apps now have more than 1 billion users. Instagram has been estimated to be worth more than $100 billion if it were a standalone company.
Internal Facebook research has recently shown that WhatsApp and Messenger compete for user attention, and that Facebook users are increasingly also sharing to Instagram and WhatsApp, The Information previously reported. Of all the Facebook apps, the research showed that Instagram was growing the fastest globally while overall engagement for the Facebook app was flat in 2018 after falling the year prior.
Facebook recently confirmed that it’s under antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, and recent reports by The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg said regulators are specifically examining the social network’s history of acquisitions and whether they were defensive moves to stifle competition. The Department of Justice has also recently said that it’s beginning a broad antitrust probe of large tech companies.
While studies show that Facebook’s brand has been tarnished by its many privacy scandals, and that users are increasingly becoming more aware of the firm’s data collection practices, Instagram and WhatsApp have largely remained unscathed. Two 2018 surveys conducted by the privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo found that more than half of Americans didn’t know Facebook owned Instagram or WhatsApp.