Corona crisis: dispute over Whatsapp use in schools

In Lower Saxony there is a dispute over the use of Whatsapp and Skype during school closings. The background to this are recommendations from the Ministry of Culture in Hanover, which allowed students and teachers to communicate via the messenger service and the video conference system. The Lower Saxony State Data Protection Commissioner Barbara Thiel does not want to accept this decision.

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In the recommendations published last Friday Minister of Culture Grant Hendrik Tonne (SPD) says: "The teachers arrange information and communication channels with their students. They are in regular contact with them – at least once a week – and offer 'consultation hours' by telephone, chat or video conference at reliable times. The use of private devices is temporary as well as the use of messengers and cloud services (e.g. Whatsapp or Skype). "

Thiel points in a statement dated April 20, 2020 however expressly point out "that she neither recommended nor approved the use of Whatsapp in schools". She was ready, given the corona pandemic "to postpone certain concerns in individual cases for a narrowly limited period of time". Nevertheless, certain general conditions would have to be observed when using messengers by public authorities. So the communication should be as economical as possible.

However, Whatsapp does not meet the requirement for data economy. Already when registering for Whatsapp, all contact data stored in the user's phone would be transferred to the provider. "There is neither a legal basis for this nor can the people who are stored in the user phone consent to the data transfer or object to it"it continues. Thiel makes reference to this "significantly more data-efficient messenger services"that offer the same opportunities for communication. "I therefore ask the Ministry of Culture to seriously consider alternatives to Whatsapp and to inform the schools of the results of this examination so that they can use data protection-friendly services."said Thiel.

The professional use of messenger services such as Whatsapp by certain professional groups can be problematic. In addition to teachers, this also applies to lawyers and doctors.

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