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WhatsApp leak shows its best interoperability feature

Published Mar 6th, 2024 7:55PM EST
iPhone 15 Pro showing the App Store ahead of iOS 17.4 beta release
Image: José Adorno for BGR

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March 7th is nearly here, and it’s going to be a big day in Europe. All of the companies that have been designated as gatekeepers or operate gatekeeper services must implement changes that comply with the Digital Markets Act (DMA) requirements in Europe.

We have primarily focused on Apple and iPhone sideloading, but there are other important changes coming to the European tech landscape. Chat apps that are gatekeepers will have to open up to rivals come March 7th. Apple’s iMessage isn’t one of them, but Meta’s WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger apps both are.

WhatsApp announced months ago that it would enable chat interoperability in the region, so we knew the feature was in the works. We’ve yet to see it in action, but leaks show that support for third-party chat apps is being tested on Android. One of those leaks shows the best part of the feature: You can turn it off. It’s up to WhatsApp users to actually enable support for other apps.

The WhatsApp screenshots below come from a pair of WABetaInfo reports. The blog is famous for sharing unreleased features it discovers in betas. The first screenshot is taken from WhatsApp version 2.24.5.20, which rolled out to Google Play Beta Program testers:

Screenshot from WhatsApp beta 2.24.5.20 shows support for third-party apps.
Screenshot from WhatsApp beta 2.24.5.20 shows support for third-party apps. Image source: WABetaInfo

As you can see in the image above, WhatsApp will let you chat with Instagram users, among other third-party chat apps. It’s crucial to remember that third-party chat apps will have to ask Meta to be included in WhatsApp’s interoperability system. 

The blog says they tested the feature with Instagram. Choosing a different Meta chat app is probably the easiest thing you could do for testing purposes. WABetaInfo says the app will show a chat info screen for third-party chat apps.

“Since profile names and photos are unavailable in third-party chats, WhatsApp will instead display the default profile photo and the third-party app name from which the chat originated,” the blog writes

Other limitations will be in place. Third-party chat apps won’t get group chat support on WhatsApp (or other interoperable chat apps). Similarly, you won’t get call support initially. That’s all on par with the DMA requirements for gatekeeper chat apps.

The second screen comes from a newer beta version of WhatsApp for Android, version 2.24.6.2. The image below shows that WhatsApp will let you manage third-party chat support inside your WhatsApp installation. 

Screenshot from WhatsApp beta 2.24.6.2 shows you can disable interoperability and choose which third-party apps to chat with.
Screenshot from WhatsApp beta 2.24.6.2 shows you can disable interoperability and choose which third-party apps to chat with. Image source: WABetaInfo

That is, you can choose to enable or disable the feature on your device. And you’ll be able to choose which apps should work with WhatsApp and which shouldn’t. As someone who doesn’t want interoperability from any chat app, this is the WhatsApp interoperability feature I’ll use first. 

I’ll make sure that interoperability is disabled on my devices. I don’t want cross-app chat experiences, and I said that a few times already. I prefer standalone apps for each instant messaging platform. Having everything inside a unified system sounds like a nightmare. I don’t want to worry about things not working between two different platforms. Or about privacy and/or security.

I am a longtime WhatsApp user who wants to keep chatting with my WhatsApp contacts over WhatsApp. I’ll use iMessage with my friends and family who want to use iMessage on iPhone. And so on. I’ll switch to whatever chat app you might prefer rather than enabling that third-party chat app inside WhatsApp. 

Of all the things the DMA will mandate, chat interoperability is the worst idea. There’s no benefit for the user, and I’ll die on that hill.

The fact that WhatsApp will offer the user the ability to turn on and off interoperability isn’t a surprise. The DMA requires user control over the feature. That is, the DMA can impose interoperability for gatekeeper chat apps, but it can’t force Europeans to actually use it. 

Screens similar to the ones above will probably be available on Android and iPhone in Europe soon enough. Again, the March 7th deadline is approaching, so Meta will have to get interoperability support ready. I would expect similar experiences for Facebook Messenger, which is also a gatekeeper service.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.