Beware of WhatsApp and other news

26th November 2020

There seems to be so much going on at the moment and so much uncertainty around what we can and can’t do with regard to lock down and isolations and so on, I don’t know about you but it is starting to make my head spin!

The one thing I am clear on though is data protection – so I thought I would try and bring a little bit of peace of mind into your life by highlighting a few things to help keep your organisation safe from a data protection point of view over the Christmas period and whilst so many people are still working from home.

We wrote a full article on safe guidelines for remote working back at the beginning of the first lockdown and you can read that here, as well as how the ICO are handling things very slightly differently due to the pandemic here

However, the thing that really caused me to want to remind everyone about this again, was something that came up recently around the dangers of using the popular messaging app ‘WhatsApp’.

Many teams are using WhatsApp because of its instant messaging ability and the easy way you can set up different groups of people and share conversations and photographs . . . but herein lies the problem.

WhatsApp conversations would be included in a Subject Access Request (SAR) – so if you include any personal data in your WhatsApp conversations you are going to need to be able to retrieve it.

Secondly, people are using WhatsApp or even text messages to share documents by taking a photograph on their (often personal) phones.  This means that potentially, personal information is now stored on people’s phones.  This is unlikely to be compliant with data protection legislation and should be avoided.

Additionally, it is our understanding that it is against WhatsApp’s terms of service for it to be used for work purposes, so our recommendation is to stay clear of it for business and instead use tools designed for the purpose (for example Microsoft Teams).

Ignorance is unlikely to be a valid defence should the ICO come calling, so educating all members of your organisation around the dangers of using WhatsApp, or ideally, as we would recommend to our clients, ban its use for work purposes altogether.

What can we help you with?

Book a no-obligation, complimentary Zoom consultation, and one of our data protection specialists will be delighted to help.

Call: +44 (0)1673 88 55 33

Email:[email protected]

Updated 27th April 2021

On 15th May 2021 WhatsApp is updating its privacy policy.  This update was due to happen on 8th February 2021, however, due to widespread uncertainty and concern, they postponed it, until they had had a chance to explain what was happening and alleviate people’s concerns.

So, what is the WhatsApp Privacy Policy Update all about?

Previously, as a WhatsApp user, you could opt-out of sharing any of your data with Facebook, however now, if you want to continue to use WhatsApp you have to accept that some of your data will be shared, or your use of the platform will be restricted.

What data will WhatsApp be sharing with Facebook?

They say they will be sharing the data from the ‘Information We Collect’ section of their Privacy Policy.  It looks to be:

  • “The phone number you verified when you signed up for WhatsApp
  • Some of your device information (your device identifiers associated with the same device or account, operating system version, app version, platform information, your mobile country code and network code, and flags to enable tracking of the update acceptance and control choices),
  • and some of your usage information (when you last used WhatsApp and the date you first registered your account)” . . .

WhatsApp are keen to point out that they will not be sharing any of your messages (they remain end-to-end encrypted) or your contacts to Facebook.

They haven’t ruled out sharing your data to Facebook to help enhance their advertising platform, but at the moment they do NOT do this – they say on their website that they are working with the data protection agencies to find a possible solution to this.

It’s up to you if you continue to use WhatsApp.  If you don’t want to accept their new Terms, their advice is simply to delete your account.

From a data protection point of view – our advice, as previously, is to steer clear of Whatsapp for business communication.

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