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Facebook puts its stamp – and name – on Instagram and WhatsApp

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Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014. But even today, many users of these apps are unaware that they are part of Mark Zuckerberg's empire. Facebook went a long way to making them function as independent brands. There are many "I hate Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. I'm going to Instagram" posts on social media.

The companies had their own CEOs, their own apps and websites, their own office buildings and email addresses. Facebook even allowed WhatsApp employees to have nicer desks and more advanced bathrooms.

On Friday, Facebook confirmed that the independent era is over. It has told employees that Facebook's ownership of both apps will become clearer. The Instagram app says "Instagram from Facebook" at the bottom of the login page and the settings page. "We want to be clearer about the products and services that are part of Facebook," said spokeswoman Bertie Thomson. The change was previously reported by The Information.

The timing of the news, like many things associated with Facebook recently, seemed at the same time logical and boneheaded.

Zuckerberg has taken steps this past year to suggest that Facebook intended to make WhatsApp and Instagram less independent. He pushed out the founders of both companies and installed Facebook executives. Earlier this year, he said he wanted to merge their messaging platforms into an encrypted version of Facebook Messenger. In that context, it makes sense to take the step of making it clearer that Instagram and WhatsApp are part of Facebook.

In addition to WhatsApp and Instagram staff and users may not like it, by merging the three brands, Zuckerberg can also say what he does as the world asks of him. For three years, critics have blamed him for not having better operational control over his empire. Now he claims control.

What makes the move seem poorly viewed is that just last week Facebook confirmed that both the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission are investigating the company for possible antitrust violations. Among the items the agencies are considering: Whether Facebook's purchases of WhatsApp and Instagram were competitive because they outperform potential competitors. It is hard to avoid wondering if Facebook's rescheduling exercise is no ham with effort to convince government lawyers that three apps are already merged.

20 years ago, Microsoft tried to make a similar argument about the Windows operating system and the Internet Explorer browser. The government said Microsoft had illegally tied Explorer to Windows as a way to crush browser competitor Netscape. Microsoft won the appeal. But it was an overwhelming four-year battle that hampered Microsoft's ability to innovate for the next decade.

We know that Zuckerberg and Microsoft's founder Bill Gates are friends. You'd think Gates would advise him not to make this mistake again.


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