Element’s latest bridge for Matrix: ‘All the good stuff from WhatsApp, without the less good Facebook stuff’

Element, the commercial face of the Matrix messaging system, may have added to the woes of WhatsApp with the introduction of a bridge from the Facebook tentacle into the federated messaging world of Matrix.

The technology follows similar bridges introduced for the likes of Microsoft Teams, Telegram and Slack. With developer Tulir Asokan’s open-source mautrix-whatsapp bridge doing the heavy lifting, according to Element, the cost is 50 cents per active user per month.

WhatsApp has been in the news of late for all the wrong reasons, having been clobbered with an eye-watering €225m GDPR fine and being the focus of worries over just how private chats on the service really are.

Amandine Le Pape, co-founder of Element, wasted no time in sticking the knife into WhatsApp, and told The Register: “The fine isn’t surprising and it’s good to see regulations having an impact. However, three years to get to this result and misalignment between countries on the details show we’re still far from something easily applicable.”

“Many authorities,” she continued, “especially those in Germany and the rest of the EU, are uncomfortable with WhatsApp. It has far deeper adoption across Europe than in the US. European governments see the dangers of surveillance capitalism, and don’t like the thought of so many citizens using a messaging app owned by a US-based data mining firm.”

Yikes. However, Le Pape acknowledged that “no CISO worth their salt would support WhatsApp usage in the workplace anyway.”

WhatsApp remains popular with consumers and has been known to feature in the world of shadow IT, to the annoyance of administrators.

Naturally, Element is keen for customers to make the jump, having used the bridge and become used to its own, Matrix-powered experience.

“It’s all the good stuff from WhatsApp, without the less good Facebook stuff,” claimed Le Pape, “and fully integrated with the rest of the company’s ID management, access controls and permissions. You can’t use a stick and ban WhatsApp, but you can dangle the far more enticing carrot that is Element.”

Enticing? Perhaps. Not all the functionality is present. Sure, one can send messages between Element and WhatsApp, but other WhatsApp goodies, such as audio and video calling are absent at present.

And then there is the risk of WhatsApp abruptly pulling up the drawbridge and breaking the integration.

“Some systems like Telegram allow third-party clients,” said Le Pape, “others like WhatsApp discourage it.

“However, with all the legislation pushing hard towards interoperability (whether the EU Digital Markets Act or US ACCESS) it feels like it would be a very ill-advised move for a big tech megacorp like Facebook to bring down the hammer on innocent users who are simply trying to interoperate.”

Le Pape concluded: “It would certainly be an excellent way to bring yet more antitrust scrutiny or worse.” ®

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