Attorneys should be Mindful of the Upcoming Privacy Changes to WhatsApp

On its website, WhatsApp, the popular Facebook-owned messaging app, says that “Privacy and Security are in our DNA.” WhatsApp’s DNA will mutate as of February 8th. This should concern attorneys that use the platform.

WhatsApp touts itself as a platform that provides end-to-end encryption of messages, along with voice calls, video calls, and group calls, among other features. In 2016, WhatsApp gave users the ability to opt-out of having account data turned over to Facebook, the world’s largest social media company. Starting next month, WhatsApp users will no longer have the choice of opting out. Instead, WhatsApp will begin sharing user information with Facebook, including contacts and locations. If a user doesn’t accept WhatsApp’s new terms of service, they will no longer be able to use their account starting on February 8th.

Facebook, which makes its money from user data, paid $19 billion for WhatsApp in 2014, and it remains Facebook’s largest acquisition. Now Facebook is looking to commercialize and monetize WhatsApp. As attorneys that are hypersensitive when it comes to privacy and confidentiality, this should be worrisome. The sharing of information between WhatsApp and Facebook is a slippery slope that could trickle into an avalanche. From access to an attorney’s contact list and location data, alone, with little analysis, Facebook may infer or determine who in a contact list is a client and where and when the attorney spoke to the client. That in and of itself may be information that many attorneys want to keep secret.  Imagine what additional confidential and private information Facebook could unearth about its attorney-users if WhatsApp decides to share even more information.

There are alternatives to WhatsApp. Next week’s newsletter will provide an overview of other end-to-end encrypted messaging platforms.

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