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13.03.2021

Messenger Services and Data Protection

In the last weeks we witnessed intense media discussions about messenger services, triggered by the new user policy issued by WhatsApp. We interviewed Karl Schlagenhaufen, an Austrian compliance professional and certified data protection manager. We wanted to find out what the underlying compliance issue is and how can it be solved.
Q:
In its new user policy, WhatsApp requires consent from its users to pass on data to Facebook if they want to continue using the app. It that the problem?
A:
That is part of the problem, but not all of it. WhatsApp requires access to all contacts stored on the mobile device already upon installation.
Q:
Did WhatsApp not improve over time?
A:
Partially yes, WhatsApp offers end-to-end encryption of messages (meaning their content) already. But it does belong to Facebook whose business model consists in collecting data.
Q:
With Telegram, we have a domestic alternative to WhatsApp in Russia.
A:
Telegram is relatively better but does not fulfill GDPR requirements either. It also requires disclosure of all contacts stored in your phone.
Q:
We are in Russia here, why does GDPR concern us at all?
A:
As soon as personal data of business contacts with EU residents are involved, GDPR applies to you.
Q:
And what if I do not use my WhatsApp for business correspondence?
A:
Never mind. Installing it on a phone which is used for other that private purposes means passing on your business partners´ data to a third party. For that, you need their consent.
Q:
I am using WhatsApp and Facebook privately, as I have nothing to hide…
A:
That is your legitimate choice. But always remember: there is a difference between SECRECY and PRIVACY. Think about that for a moment.
Q:
So which GPDR-compliant messenger services are there?
A:
Currently the most popular is Signal (Edward Snowden recommends it), Threema is less widespread but even safer. Some less known apps are Hoccer, Wire, ginlo, Beekeeper and Teamwire.