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From popularity to privacy: the pros and cons of using WhatsApp Business

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(Image credit: Shutterstock / Ink Drop)

With WhatsApp’s recent plans to update its privacy policy raising questions about how the platform handles user data, people are surging to check out competitors such as Signal and Telegram. 

However, it’s not just consumers that would be wise to take note of the security and privacy implications of using WhatsApp, but businesses too. 

While some companies use the regular version of WhatsApp, WhatsApp does explicitly state that they shouldn’t, and instead should be downloading WhatsApp Business. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using WhatsApp Business, across a range of criteria, from security and privacy, to usability.

About the author

Ashley Friedlein is CEO at Guild

Why consider WhatsApp Business?

Popularity
It would be easy to underestimate the advantage of a well-established platform (WhatsApp is reported to have over 2 billion active monthly users of its regular platform, and over 50 million users of WhatsApp Business), but being confident that your users have all heard of and are familiar with using your chosen platform is an undeniable plus. Particularly in the early days of setting up your communication streams, this can eliminate the hassle of getting users up to speed and save a lot of time.   

Easy to use
The simple user interface of WhatsApp Business means there really isn’t much that can go wrong. Aside from the fact that most people are familiar with the platform, it’s also very intuitive, which likely means fewer mishaps for your business. 

It can be used with a virtual phone number
For both iPhone and Android users, there’s an option to use WhatsApp Business with a virtual number; ideal for those who have concerns with sharing their number with WhatsApp or with other members of the team for those in larger organisations. 

It’s free
Considering its widespread popularity and global reach, it is perhaps a little surprising that both WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business are still free, especially with the use of additional features such as voice recordings and video calls.

Why you might want to think twice about using WhatsApp Business

Security and privacy
Despite the fact that companies across the world are using WhatsApp Business, there are a number of restrictions, responsibilities and risks involved, especially for larger organisations because of privacy regulations like GDPR or other regulatory requirements in their industry. 

By using the platform, you agree to your information being shared across Facebook, with it “not possible to opt out of these data practices.” 

You can’t use WhatsApp Business in regulated industries
Before you even begin to explore the platform further, you might want to check that you don’t fall into any of the industries not supported. WhatsApp Business’ Terms of Service state “we make no representations or warranties that our Business Services meet the needs of entities regulated by laws and regulations with heightened confidentiality requirements for personal data, such as healthcare, financial, or legal service entities.”

WhatsApp Business can’t be used within or across organizations
Essentially WhatsApp Business can only be used as a potential sales tool or conversation starter between a business and its customers. Stating that its “Business Services are not intended for intracorporate usage”, it therefore does not also fulfil the role of internal comms that many businesses will be relying upon from such a platform. 

A lack of work/life divide
As many of us adapt to working remotely, the work/life divide is a real struggle without a daily commute and change of scenery to help us compartmentalize the different areas of our lives, and this isn’t helped by the various different channels used for communications. Any one given business might use multiple mediums such as phone calls, email, Slack, video call, and WhatsApp to communicate between teams. 

Companies are under increasing pressure to recognise the importance of staff wellbeing at this difficult time, and with employees using WhatsApp for both personal relationships and work use, the lines become more blurred. 

However, it’s worth pointing out that when looking at alternatives like Signal which also caters to both personal and professional use, there are no settings to switch between personal or business usage.

Is there a better way?

There’s certainly a need to tread with caution for companies looking to use WhatsApp Business, but are the alternatives actually more suitable? Apps such as Telegram and Signal, are ‘end-to-end encrypted’ which means the content cannot be monitored and is beyond even law enforcement agencies. While WhatsApp Business is also end-to-end encrypted, it has a number of loopholes that allow conversations to be stored or shared. 

But do we actually want this level of secrecy? Can businesses, in good faith, condone the use of apps without visibility of what groups exist, who belongs to them, or what is being said? A lack of control and audit trails of conversations make them a minefield from a legal, IT and HR perspective. Preventing sensitive information from reaching the wrong hands seems almost impossible.  

Could there be another way where messaging can be secure and protect the individuals’ rights whilst also remaining responsible?

Now feels like the perfect time for messaging apps to lead by example and offer more private, but still responsible and accountable solutions, in policy and in practice.

Ashley Friedlein is CEO at Guild