28 February 2020
Facebook has quietly removed the ability to use the Messenger application using a phone number. It means if someone wants to stay connected via Messenger, they will need to register for a Facebook account. This new change has been confirmed to VentureBeat by Facebook and has also been reflected in the official Help Center page.
It was in 2015 when Facebook introduced the ability to use Messenger using one's phone number. It was a move to attract users who are not interested in the Facebook social media platform but want to use Messenger so that they can chat with their friends or family members who are on the platform. It should be noted that lack of phone number sign-up support will only affect new users trying to register. If you are someone who is already using Messenger via the phone number, you can continue to do so.
Here's Facebook's statement shared with VentureBeat,
"If you’re new to Messenger, you’ll notice that you need a Facebook account to chat with friends and close connections. We found that the vast majority of people who use Messenger already log in through Facebook and we want to simplify the process. If you already use Messenger without a Facebook account, no need to do anything.”
It is speculated that the change is a stepping stone in Facebook's long-term goal of integrating all of its apps i.e. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram with each other. The reasoning for the same is that it wants to make it easier for users to interact with each other regardless of what app they use. It has also emphasized on offering end-to-end encryption across all the messaging apps to maintain user privacy.
It should be noted that the aforementioned three apps will continue to be available and work as individual and stand-alone apps. The only difference would be that you will be able to chat with someone on Instagram even via WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. While the integration process is currently under works, Facebook is hoping to achieve the final goal by the end of 2020 or even later.