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06 Oct 2022 | 09:00

What are the risks of using WhatsApp for business?

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Lots of us have WhatsApp on our phones – it’s fun, free, easy to use, and great for catching up with friends and sharing memes. Unfortunately, it can be risky to use for internal comms at work, but that doesn’t stop lots of people doing it regardless. 

In this post, we explore the risks of using free messaging apps like WhatsApp for business and explore why the best instant messaging app for business is one that has been intentionally designed for your sector.

What do the UK Government, much of Wall Street, the global financial services sector and a London-based banker have in common? The answer is that they’ve all been publicly criticised (and in the case of some banks, fined hundreds of millions of dollars) for their use of WhatsApp in a business context. 

WhatsApp insists that the free, consumer-grade version of its app is for personal use only (and that the WhatsApp for Business version is for marketing and external communications, not internal comms). However, lots of people use either WhatsApp or another free, consumer-grade, instant messaging app to connect and co-ordinate workplace teams and make business arrangements. In some cases, the organisation’s management don’t know about this; in other (horrifying) cases, they actually strategise the use of WhatsApp for work. The trouble is, that’s a very risky – and entirely avoidable – option.

How do businesses use instant messaging?

Almost all organisations need internal comms of some sort. And while in the ‘old days’ these could be centralised – the office intranet, a noticeboard, staff meetings, a newsletter – the remote working that was widely enforced during COVID-19, and post-pandemic work patterns, have made many traditional comms formats ineffective. 

New working patterns also make it harder for teams to chat informally, because those ad hoc meetings at the water cooler or in the staff kitchen are now less frequent, or absent altogether. But people still need to exchange information and collaborate, so many have turned to electronic alternatives. The most convenient of these are the free messaging apps. 

So, where’s the problem?

The risks of using free messaging apps for work

From a staff member’s perspective, a messaging app provides a quick and easy way to keep in touch. But from a managerial perspective, they’re fraught with risk. 
Cyber-criminals love messaging apps and have a long history of exploiting them. The huge popularity of instant messaging makes the free apps a prime target for criminals, who routinely use them to spread malware and carry out various types of fraud. And yet many organisations still remain unaware of the risks associated with using WhatsApp for business purposes.
Messaging groups can be invisible and/or incredibly hard to manage. If your staff are creating WhatsApp groups and sharing business data within these, you have lost control of that data (which breaches data protection rules). It’s also worth bearing in mind that if the use of free messaging apps is tolerated in your company, you almost certainly have ‘invisible’ groups, about which you know nothing.
Even for the groups you do know about, the monitoring of who sees what (and doing something about it if an inappropriate person/group is included in the messaging) is almost impossible. And once your commercial information or data is downloaded onto another person’s private mobile device, there’s nothing you can do to reach or contain it.

Messaging apps, even the ones that provide end-to-end encryption, are only as secure as the behaviour of the people who use them. Or, as one messaging app (Telegram) entertainingly puts it, ‘please remember that we cannot protect you from your own mother if she takes your unlocked phone without a passcode’. If your staff leave phones unlocked, or share access details with other people, your company’s data could easily be compromised, potentially putting you in breach of data protection law and at risk of prosecution.
It's easy for staff to inadvertently share confidential information in chat groups, which may put you at risk. Using the same app for both work and personal business can blur boundaries around data protection and information sharing. It’s also incredibly easy for a staff member to share details they thought everybody knew, only to discover that these are deemed confidential or discriminatory, or to make remarks or observations that damage staff morale (or even break the law). And if you have outsiders or former employees lurking in your groups who like to circulate gossip… 
What’s more, if you have data on messaging groups, it’s probably missing from your audit trails and the data you analyse for business purposes. In the best-case scenario, this compromises the quality of your business data and decisions made in light of that. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll be unable to prove compliance during an audit, or produce the evidence you need at an employment tribunal. 
These points have clarified the risks of using WhatsApp for business – and why using any kind of free messaging app for work is a bad idea. The good news is that there are perfectly tailored alternatives.

So, what’s the best instant messaging app for business? 

If you want to be sure that your data is protected, that you are funnelling all of your data into your wider business systems and that your internal communications are both effective and secure, you need a professional, industry-grade messaging system.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, because different sectors need different things from their comms: whichever sector you work in, there will be a specifically designed, robust and secure application that suits your organisation. 
By using a professional messaging system, you will be able to show compliance with data protection rules and your duty of care to safeguard staff and clients. You’ll also greatly reduce your risk of regulatory or legal breaches, and minimise reputational harm. 
Visit our workforce productivity software page to discover how our solutions make it easy for employees to communicate and share information securely. Ready to start making internal communications work more effectively across your business? Get in touch with us today and our team will be happy to advise you on the best approach.
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