We can scarcely imagine a world without messaging apps, most notably WhatsApp. More and more companies are finding WhatsApp appealing as an additional channel for communicating with customers. However, using WhatsApp for this purpose can be particularly problematic and can be accompanied by significant monetary penalties, warns the consulting company YourIT.
Experts explain that using WhatsApp poses problems when it comes to the German Data Protection Act, because contacts from the user’s cell phone are transferred to this messaging service that now happens to belong to Facebook. Austrian professor for IT and IP law, Peter Burgstaller, sees this as a violation of the European data protection laws. According to Burgstaller, both WhatsApp, as the operator of the messaging service, and users of the service could be held liable, because they are aware that their address book contacts are being transferred, and this violates data protection laws.
High penalties are possible
According to YourIT, attorney and Internet law specialist, Christian Solmecke, of the law firm WBS Law, also views the uploading of user contacts to WhatsApp as a violation of the Data Protection Act (PDF). The fact that monetary penalties have not yet been imposed is most likely because consumer advisors have not yet taken legal action. In the case of Facebook, mother of WhatsApp, the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) has already ruled that the (technically similar) function known as «find friends» violates data protection laws and furthermore is a harassing advertisement. However, for Facebook, this function is not necessarily a must. In contrast, WhatsApp greatly relies on using mobile phone numbers as a means of user identification.
Currently, WhatsApp encrypts all communication between users. Contact data could also be encrypted before it is uploaded to the WhatsApp server. But until these questions are clarified, managing directors and IT directors should be extremely cautious, writes YourIT. In contrast to private use, responsible authorities could impose extremely high penalties on companies for professional use, as is stipulated in the Federal Data Protection Act. This strict legislation also applies to cases in which the app is used both professionally and privately. Attorneys therefore unanimously recommend not using WhatsApp for professional purposes.
SMS is the safe choice
From a legal standpoint, companies stand on solid legal ground by using SMS services instead of WhatsApp or other similar messenger apps. Furthermore, sending SMSs means that cell phone users, who still do not have smartphones or who cannot be reached via mobile Internet, can still receive messages.
Retarus’ Cloud SMS Services can be easily integrated in a company’s infrastructure, without the need for installation and the use of GSM modems. They are also ideal when messaging is time-sensitive, for example, when sending an mTAN or if time-sensitive access data for two-factor authentication for online applications is required.
For information about how to select the right SMS sender identification option, see our recently published article on this subject.