Mobile Apps

Facebook Plots Secret Chat for Messenger

Facebook apparently has been working on mobile pay and secret chat features for its Messenger app, according to a report published this week byThe Information, based on clues found in extracted software code on Messenger for iPhone.

Commands embedded in the software hint at secret conversations, similar to what’s found in WhatsApp, the voice and messaging service owned by Facebook, according to the report.

Other references reportedly found in the code include commands to pay in person and pay in Messenger when picking up an item.

“Since Facebook has long said it would continue to develop and support its own message app, it makes sense that it would adopt specific WhatsApp features into its own solutions,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

Mobile Piggyback

The mobile pay feature is credible as well, King told TechNewsWorld. However, it remains unclear whether Facebook would compete with Android Pay and Apple Pay directly, or if it would piggyback on one of those services.

“That would require a far lower initial investment and less risk than starting its own service, and eliminate the complexities of negotiating partnerships with banks and financial services,” King said.

Facebook does not intend to get into the payments business directly, but would consider partnering with other companies, CEO Mark Zuckerberg indicated during a conference call with analysts earlier this year.

“On payments, the basic strategy that we have is to make it — especially in a product like Messenger — that, where the business interaction may be a bit more transactional, to take all the friction out of making the transactions that you need,” he said.

“So we don’t view ourselves as a payments business. That’s not the type of company that we are. We’ll partner with everyone who does payments,” Zuckerberg added.

Other possible additions to Messenger include shopping and delivery features, and the ability to synchronize calendars so users can update to-do lists, share articles and update their status.

Digital Assist?

The rumored features have the potential to turn Messenger into a virtual digital assistant, according to Susan Schreiner, an analyst at C4 Trends.

“Potentially, it could learn our likes and dislikes, make suggestions about articles to read or e-books to purchase,” she told TechNewsWorld. “The Messenger app already enables you to send money to friends, so the next logical step would be using the app for in-store purchases.”

Facebook would have to overcome a couple of hurdles, said Paul Teich, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“Facebook is an advertising distribution channel,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Mobile pay will give them more insight into personal transactions. It will be a crowded market, but they have mindshare and are on a huge number of smartphones in good buying demographics.”

If the company really wants to turn the secret chat feature into a confidential experience like WhatApp’s, it will have to be willing to give up certain information, Teich said.

“Secret chat would presumably keep no record at all of messages sent,” he said. “That means metadata too — otherwise throwing away the message payload, but keeping data such as time and length of messages, sender and receiver.”

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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