What does WhatsApp’s changing privacy policy mean for clinical users?

According to The Verge, WhatsApp has around 2 billion users. So, understandably, any change to how WhatsApp shares user data is big news.

Recently, users in countries around the world have received notices informing them that WhatsApp’s privacy policy is changing on the 8th of February, and they either have to accept this or stop using the app from that date.

With so many people using WhatsApp, it isn’t surprising that it’s used in workplaces too, including by clinical staff in hospitals. Messaging apps are extremely powerful communications tools, and so WhatsApp, being the most popular of these, has been widely adopted in hospitals – this trend has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, NHSX advised NHS clinicians that using WhatsApp was acceptable in cases where there was no practical alternative, and the benefits outweighed the risks. However, clinicians have more reason to be concerned by changes in privacy policy than most, as they could be sharing sensitive patient information which is protected by law.

So how are WhatsApp’s terms changing?

After widespread concern amongst regulators and in the media, WhatsApp have been at pains to emphasise that people’s conversations will still be encrypted and that neither WhatsApp or their parent company Facebook will be able to read them. It insists that the changes to the privacy policy regarding the data it shares with Facebook are linked to e-commerce features in WhatsApp, the relationship between these and Facebook advertising, and a new feature to allow people to WhatsApp businesses via a Facebook advert.

It should be noted that these changes do not mean WhatsApp will start sharing your contacts and phone number with Facebook, because it already does so.

Whether you are concerned enough about these changes to stop using the app or not, what it does demonstrate is how popular apps like WhatsApp owned by enormous corporations are inherently unstable in terms of their policies – as well as their features. Facebook’s profits are driven by monetisation of personal data and advertising, and it is likely that efforts to monetise WhatsApp, and therefore changes to its privacy policies, will continue.

Fortunately, there are alternatives which are not only more suitable from a privacy perspective, but from a feature and compliance perspective too.

Clinical communications apps – the alternative to WhatsApp

While adoption of WhatsApp in the NHS was originally driven, at least in part, by a lack of good alternatives, this is no longer the case. In fact, apps like Multitone Messenger have been developed from the ground up to be used in a healthcare setting by clinicians.

Multitone Messenger is licenced by individual organisations and will never share personal data outside of a hospital for profit or any other reason. Privacy policies will only change to reflect regulatory changes or in response to new features, and then only in such a way as to continue to give cast-iron protection to confidential data, whilst improving the app to make it a better tool for clinicians. Indeed, Messenger puts hospitals in charge of data, with the ability to erase it remotely from user’s devices and decide when to erase it entirely from their secure, dedicated encrypted server, whether it’s physically on-site or a virtual server in the cloud.

Not only do Messenger users benefit from features and policies that are focused on regulatory alignment and the protection of sensitive data; the app also ensures a clear separation of professional and private life, with a centrally administered, workplace-only contacts list, a separate phone system which conceals the device’s phone number, and a status setting which ensures everybody knows when you’re off the clock. It’s also designed to do everything WhatsApp can do in terms of communications, but with the added benefit of being designed with healthcare users in mind.

In short, if a hospital is still using WhatsApp for communications between clinicians, now is a great time to switch to Multitone Messenger.

To learn more about Multitone Messenger for healthcare, click here.