WhatsApp in industrial service: curse or blessing?

WhatsApp has become an integral part of many people’s lives. Even in industrial service, employees are increasingly using the messaging service. It is undisputed that WhatsApp offers numerous advantages. But what are the risks of the app?

The increasing digitalisation of the working world and the associated simplification of processes, time savings and flexibility is progressing ever faster. We quickly get used to these conveniences because they simplify our everyday lives. However, we do not recommend disregarding the risks, especially in an operational context.

WhatsApp – The alternative to SMS

By now, almost everyone owns a smartphone and is also constantly connected to the internet. Jan Koum and Brian Acton, the founders of WhatsApp, seized the moment and created WhatsApp, a messaging service that greatly simplifies mobile communication. The instant messaging service offers users the possibility to share messages, photos, videos and voice recordings with friends, family and colleagues. At the same time, the service is completely free of charge. Since 2015, internet-based telephoning has also been made possible.

Due to the sheer mass of WhatsApp users, you can also reach pretty much every smartphone user. Unlike messenger services such as Threema, Facetime and Skype, users do not have to add each other, because this happens automatically as soon as the phone number of the WhatsApp user is saved in the smartphone’s address book. This makes communication easy and fast.

In the meantime, WhatsApp belongs to the Facebook group, which earns most of its money by placing advertisements and has been in the public eye a few times in the recent past because of data protection problems. Nevertheless, WhatsApp is one of the most popular private apps, and rightly so in our opinion. But there are some risks to be aware of in the corporate environment.

WhatsApp in industrial service

WhatsApp has not only been used privately for some time now, but is also increasingly found on company mobile phones. The messaging service is also used as a communication tool in service departments. WhatsApp can help speed up the work process by allowing the service technician to send photos and videos to his colleagues and thus visually explain the problem. In the best case, the employee on site can solve the technical problem himself; a second journey with the associated travel costs can thus be omitted.

The advantages, especially in comparison to conventional telephone calls and e-mail traffic, are obvious. However, the devil is in the detail.

WhatsApp – Not a suitable tool for industrial service

WhatsApp provides its users with many helpful functions, offers numerous advantages and simplifies communication between people. However, the messaging service also conceals one or two disadvantages that should not be ignored. For some areas, the messenger service simply lacks the right functions to support employees effectively and to map a structured process.

WhatsApp groups do not serve as a folder structure

WhatsApp offers its users to create groups to communicate with up to 256 participants. Creating a group is definitely useful to reach several people directly with an important piece of information.

If communication takes place in several groups at the same time, both private and business, the constantly arriving notifications quickly take over. Topics are often mixed up or private information is interspersed. The overview is lost. If you can’t contribute to the communication, the numerous notifications can get on your nerves and take up a lot of time. There is then nothing left of productive work. In the service, communication should be case- or problem-related, clear and facilitate work.

Documentation is not possible

As simple as communication on WhatsApp may be, further use of the exchanged information is not possible. The communication, sometimes valuable expert knowledge, remains in a chat or in a group and can only be exported and documented with a great deal of manual effort.

The documentation of service cases and the storage of expert knowledge is an enormously important topic in order to continuously improve service performance. The processing of information, e.g. for the control of operations by the service management, the documentation of operations in order to settle warranty cases or to invoice the service to the customer, is also not possible with WhatsApp.

Use of WhatsApp on different devices

WhatsApp can only be used with a smartphone. There is now a desktop application, but it can only be used if the smartphone is in the immediate vicinity. It is not possible to use it on several end devices, even independently of the smartphone.

The use of various independent terminals plays an important role, especially in service. For the experts in the office, the application should run on desktop computers in order to get a comprehensive view of the service cases. For the service employee in the field, it is best to work with free hands in order to be able to continue working during the remote service. In a private environment, the smartphone is usually fully sufficient. In everyday service work under rough conditions, however, the demands on the end devices are much higher.

No secure storage location for the data

When photos, videos or even other documents are sent via WhatsApp, the messenger service stores the data where they do not belong. Instead of the data partition, they are stored in the sdcard partition, which is visible to all apps with file access. However, they should not be stored there if the files are to remain secure, because other services thus also gain access to the documents stored in the sd-card.

In essence, this is a breach of the retention obligation. The statutory retention obligations, for example according to § 257 HGB and § 147 AO, as well as according to the “Principles for the proper keeping and retention of books, records and documents in electronic form as well as for data access” (GoBD) should definitely be taken into account. All professional communication should be conducted via a professional account; it should definitely be prevented that the business communication “bypasses” the employer.

Similarly, the retention of sensitive data from machinery and equipment used for complex production processes is questionable. When using WhatsApp, the data is stored on Facebook’s servers, i.e. outside the EU, and can even be analysed further by Facebook’s terms and conditions or data protection agreement.

Data protection: WhatsApp shares personal data

Das größte Risiko von WhatsApp besteht darin, dass die WhatsApp Inc. Zugriff auf alle Kontaktdaten des Smartphones ohne Einwilligung der Betroffenen erhält, die obendrein an die Konzernmutter Facebook weitergeleitet werden.

Wer WhatsApp nutzt erlaubt dem Dienst, alle Kontaktdaten auf dem Handy auszulesen und in die Zentrale in den USA zu übertragen. Nach Artikel 6 der DS-GVO ist das ein Verstoß gegen das Recht auf Schutz von personenbezogener Daten (Artikel 6 der DS-GVO). Denn bevor dem Dienst zu dieser Handlung eingewilligt werden darf, müssen alle Personen, die im Adressbuch des Nutzers stehen, theoretisch ebenfalls zugestimmt haben. Im geschäftlichen Alltag wird es fast unmöglich sein, sich von sämtlichen privaten und geschäftlichen Kontakten eine entsprechende schriftliche Einwilligung einzuholen.

Noch komplizierter wird es, wenn nicht alle Kontakte eine Zustimmung erteilen, denn dann müssen Sie konsequenterweise für alle Kontakte ohne Zustimmung ein Smartphone ohne WhatsApp betreiben. Andernfalls ist der Einsatz des Messengerdienstes rechtlich nicht zulässig und verstößt gegen die Bestimmungen der Datenschutzgrundverordnung.

WhatsApp not only accesses data itself, but also shares it. The company’s privacy policy explicitly states with regard to the sharing of personal data collected by WhatsApp:

WhatsApp Inc. shares information globally, both internally with Facebook companies and externally with companies, service providers and partners, as well as with those you communicate with around the world. Your information may be transferred or transmitted to, or stored and processed in, the United States or other third countries for the purposes described in this Privacy Policy.

Privacy Policy WhatsApp Inc.

The data protection provision is not limited to the transfer of data to the parent company Faceboook Inc., but the wording leaves it open whether and to what extent other companies also obtain the data.

Since the entry of the GDPR, high penalties apply for data protection violations. If the protection of personal data is inadequate, fines of up to 20 million euros or four percent of annual turnover are threatened. The use of WhatsApp thus carries an existential risk for a company.

A professional solution: RISE is the secure and effective alternative to WhatsApp for your remote service workflow.

WhatsApp has made its way into service departments through its intuitive and widespread use, helping to provide simple and faster support for technical problems. However, its use is not free of risks and is not suitable for process-oriented use in service.

With our Remote Service App RISE, we offer comparable functions, but enable much more extensive collaboration in technical service. We enable the documentation and archiving of expert knowledge and help our customers build a knowledge base. We support our customers in digitising a central service process, while guaranteeing data sovereignty and data protection in accordance with the German Data Protection Regulation (DS-GVO) at all times.

The data in RISE is exchanged in a protected environment, communication is end-to-end encrypted and RISE is fully DS-GVO compliant. Added to this is the archiving of expert knowledge and the ability to work hands-free using Smart Glass. 

Contact us if you want to switch to a professional remote service solution and set up your service digitally.