India Inc. cautions employees on WhatsApp privacy policy changes

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Several Indian and multinational companies have started issuing advisories to staff, asking them to avoid sharing sensitive company information on WhatsApp and stop using the platform for critical business calls.

Tata Steel Ltd. and other companies, Indian and multinational, have begun issuing advisories to staff asking them to avoid sharing sensitive information on WhatsApp and stop using the platform for critical business calls.

This follows the messaging giant’s new privacy policy and terms of service that detail how it plans to share data with parent Facebook. Cybersecurity experts said boards are asking companies to issue such alerts to avoid compliance issues later on. The parliamentary committee on information technology, which is expected to meet Monday on 5G, could discuss the WhatsApp privacy update, said people familiar with the matter.

Tata Steel has urged staff not to post important corporate matters or conduct business meetings on the platform, in an email seen by ET.“According to the new policy, WhatsApp will be integrated with Facebook and Instagram with possible exchange and sharing of data among these platforms… We strongly advise the use of Microsoft Office 365 facilities and Teams for official communication,” stated the email sent by Mrinal Kanti Pal, chief of cloud infrastructure, network and cybersecurity at Tata Steel. The company didn’t respond to queries.

Companies are also cognizant about potential liability issues.

‘Ensuring Compliance’

“We have been advising companies since WhatsApp’s privacy policy update. Not just Indian companies, we are also working with very large global companies on the matter,” said Sanchit Vir Gogia, CEO of Greyhound Research. “The boards are directing companies to issue advisories to staff members to ensure compliance. This is also about safeguarding themselves. They are shifting the liability on the users.”

Gogia said companies in the services sector and others are issuing such alerts. “In lesser compliant industries, there is rampant use of WhatsApp. Groups are standard. Screenshots are taken. WhatsApp has entered the corporate space in a very big way. Companies cannot ban it. But they can enforce policies around it,” he said. “With the recent development, large companies are reminding staff that the platform is not the official channel of communication.”

Communication via mails, texts

Many companies are sensitising employees and evaluating other options, said Sivarama Krishnan, cybersecurity leader for Asia Pacific at PwC.

“Companies in the pharma and financial services space are doing this,” he said. “In the past, financial services firms shared a lot of communication through WhatsApp. They are restricting communications to emails or personal messages instead of WhatsApp now. Many services companies are evaluating other options. WhatsApp has integrated well with businesses. Companies which have made WhatsApp a basis for sensitive communication are now moving away.”

WhatsApp said Friday that the update doesn’t change its data sharing practices with Facebook and won’t impact how people communicate privately with friends and family wherever they are in the world. A company spokesperson said the update will make it easier for people to make purchases and get help from businesses on the messaging platform. “We updated the privacy policy to describe that, going forward, businesses can choose to receive secure hosting services from our parent company Facebook to help manage their communications with their customers on WhatsApp,” the spokesperson said.

Other Platforms

Senior professionals in companies have conveyed to employees that they need to tone down the usage of WhatsApp and use business communication platforms such as Slack instead, said Rahul Tyagi, cofounder at enterprise cybersecurity firm Lucideus.

“WhatsApp was never meant for business communication. WhatsApp and other similar applications were designed for convenience,” he said. “Organisations are moving to platforms such as Slack because even in other messaging applications such as Telegram and Signal, there are certain settings that need to be enabled in order to get the best ROI.”

Every company will need to take its own stand on the matter, said Rituparna Chakraborty, executive vice president at TeamLease Services.

“There is an uproar all across the world around this,” she said. “A lot of companies have WhatsApp groups for business dealings. There will be some impact of the privacy update on company communications for sure.”

 

Source: The Economic Times

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