Last week Whatsapp updated its terms and related privacy policy, and made several significant changes that were kind expected since the acquisition of Whatsapp by Facebook in 2014. In summary, Whatsapp will share personal information and data of users with Facebook, in order to mainly improve advertising related revenue channels. For enterprises which use Whatsapp for business purposes these changes of terms have critical consequences. We have written of the disadvantages and damages of Whatsapp for business use in the past, and suggested to look for a dedicated enterprise messaging app in order to ensure company-wide security, strong data protection and maximum productivity. However, we believe the new changes of the terms of Whatsapp should now make every enterprise seriously considering to stop using Whatsapp for business purposes, if an enterprise wants to avoid damages to and sharing of employee, customer and partner data with Facebook.

Initially Whatsapp wants to share the phone number and personal information of a user with Facebook. This data should be primarily used to show more relevant advertisement and probably to make tracking of users easier. Since Whatsapp wants to generate revenue soon by allowing businesses to message and chat with its user base, the same data will also be required for the identification of users and enabling businesses to easily connect with them.

In a second step it is quite likely that Whatsapp will share the address book of a user with Facebook. The address book of a user gives an overview of who your family, who your friends are, who you are working with, who your customers and partners are, etc. Whatsapp has also information about a user's communication behavior like with whom you are communicating with, how often you message, at what time of the day you chat, etc. Even without access to encrypted messages, these two data sources enable a pretty good understanding of a user's life, interests and habits. The address book alone is a very powerful data source for all kind of advertising revenue, marketing activities and also completely new business models. Whatsapp has access to a user's address book (it is required to use the service) and all the user's contacts are already stored on the servers of Whatsapp. Based on the new terms Whatsapp is allowed to share the address book with Facebook.

It is clear that in general this personal data is confidential and should be protected. In the case of a consumer who does not need to pay for Whatsapp, the "payment" comes in form of weak data protection and allowing the use of personal data for advertising reasons. The consequences can be negative, but this is a personal decision that a consumer has to make. However, in the cases of a business user or an an enterprise using Whatsapp, this kind of "payment" is not acceptable, since employee, customer and partner data is at tremendous risk. This highly sensitive data needs to be strongly protected, in order to prevent significant damages and costs from a business, customer, legal, compliance and competitive perspective

Enterprises should make no mistake: Currently we just see the beginning of Whatsapp using and sharing personal data for business reasons. Whatsapp will continuously increase data sharing and accessing over the next years. If enterprises don't take measures quickly, they risk that confidential data of employees, customers and partners is used for unintended purposes by Whatsapp. It should also be clear, that once this has happened, it cannot be undone. 

The consumer business model of Whatsapp is in conflict with data protection interests of enterprises. We strongly encourage businesses to switch to a dedicated enterprise messaging app in order protect corporate data and avoid substantial damages. For further information how to ensure strong data protection, security and productivity with an enterprise messaging app, please contact us

 

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