Secure Messaging Data Security

Data Security, your trust and the public — what does this mean for healthcare?

The Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal has been the top of everyone’s newsfeed. Who we should trust with our personal data is not a new question, yet the far-reaching extent of how these organisations collected our data and the impact of how this data was allegedly ‘weaponized’ has been eye-opening.


Who should we trust with our data?

In an increasingly digital age, there has been a growing public debate about who we should trust with our data. When a friend who you haven’t seen in 10 years comes up as a ‘suggested friend’ or the gift you were going to buy your Mum appears on your newsfeed, one starts to suspect that Facebook is monitoring what you are up to, and channelling advertisements based on our activity. However, as described in this Guardian article, there is a slippery descent from savvy digital marketing to exploitative data breaches. Just last week, Facebook admitted to harvesting data on users’ phone calls and texts.

WhatsApp is owned by Facebook

In the face of the ‘Facebook data row’, perhaps we need to be more vigilant about the platforms we use. Daniel Gross, partner at Silicon Valley accelerator Y-Combinator, was vocal on Twitter last week about the concern surrounding the ‘Facebook umbrella’. As users, we see WhatsApp and Instagram as distinct from Facebook; even though they are both owned by it.

Many are reassured that WhatsApp is sufficiently secure by the ‘end to end encryption’ phrase being brandished around. Plus, WhatsApp exchanges are taking place in a ‘private’ forum compared to the public domain of the Facebook news feed, so the sphere feels more secure to most users. But does knowing that Facebook owns WhatsApp change that viewpoint?


WhatsApp’s privacy settings are deemed illegal across Europe

WhatsApp’s default privacy settings and their use of users’ personal data has been ruled illegal by the German courts and they have been ordered to stop data sharing by the French. This occurred following the announcement last year that Facebook “intend to tap into its subsidiary’s WhatsApp records to give better friend suggestions and more relevant adverts” according to this BBC article.

This Irish Times article also reported Facebook was fined by the EU for over 100 million euros due to the provision of “misleading information” in its buy-out of WhatsApp. Clearly buzz terms like ‘end to end encryption’ don’t really tell us enough.


How do these revelations about Facebook impact clinical staff in the NHS?

Let us now consider the situation that the data you are sharing on these platforms isn’t just your data. What if you work in healthcare, and the data collected from your conversation is about the patients you are caring for?

The NHS’s ‘WhatsApp problem’ has been well documented in recent months, with growing public recognition that the majority of hospital doctors are using WhatsApp on a daily basis in order to communicate with colleagues and speed up clinical decisions.

Dr Lydia Yarlott, a Junior Doctor and Co-Founder of Forward discusses this issue in a recent Independent article. As she explains, doctors are officially required to contact each other using pagers and fax machines, technology that lags decades behind other industries. Yarlott explains that, in frustration, NHS staff have turned to WhatsApp messaging as a vital tool for keeping pace with the high volume, rapid-decision making required in modern healthcare. In fact in a survey of 60 trusts, 90% of doctors use instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp, to supplement clinical communications.

The implications of this status quo cannot be ignored

The fact that Facebook, the owner of WhatsApp, is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons over their mishandling and abuse of users data, will focus the minds of doctors, NHS Trusts and policymakers alike towards the ticking data timebomb that is in front of us. The time is now to stop using WhatsApp and find solutions that help improve patient care whilst holding security and data protection as a number one priority. To learn more about Forward’s security features check out the dedicated page on our website: www.forwardapp.co.uk/security.