Porvoo software company urges government to be more cyber secure

Could American tech companies - outside the reach of the Finnish legal system - collect metadata from services like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram? The answer is yes. Yes they could.

File picture of Hailer CEO Nico Larsen

A Porvoo software company is urging the government to take more care with cyber security, and perhaps switch even casual communications between ministers to a domestic platform instead of using a service owned by American tech giants.

Hailer CEO Nico Larsen made the comments after a recent interview where Minister of Education Li Andersson (Left) revealed that the five government leaders communicate together in a WhatsApp group.

Although Andersson clarified that ministers only use WhatsApp for casual chatting and not for any more sensitive discussions due to security considerations, Larsen says that using a foreign platform just for chatting also has its risks.

“Whatsapp is end-to-end encrypted so the content of the messages should be safe. At least, safer than emails. But the problem is with data mining” says Larsen.

Social media companies, including Facebook which owns WhatsApp and Instagram where many government ministers have personal accounts, are in the business of mining the metadata from those platforms and then selling it.

That information could include where and when calls were made, or photos taken. Who was tagged in pictures and updates, where those updates were posted online.

File image of computer, cyber / Credit: iStock

“Sanna Marin picks up WhatsApp. She messages to the group, it gets delivered, the other ministers read the message, they go to Parliament, they go to lunch, they send another message. All their data gets tracked, when and where they send the messages, to whom, and at what time” Larsen tells News Now Finland.

“There is a lot of metadata that is not interesting at first look, but it is important to someone, in this case a foreign player in the social media market not covered by Finnish law” he adds.

On its own, individual pieces of information seem inconsequential. But drawn together, all those small nuggets of metadata can paint a clear picture of how a government minister spends his or her days, where they go, who they communicate with and what their interests are.

“The main message should be the Finnish government should not be working for American tech giants. All the different tools that are being used are not a problem in themselves, but if someone really wants to spy on Finland, they can connect all the different data streams they have access to – where are the government meeting, how are they chatting” Hailer’s Nico Larsen explains.

The Director of Information in the Prime Minister’s Office Max Hamberg previously told Iltalehti newspaper that services like WhatsApp and Signal are used only for preparatory discussions between officials and political leaders and sensitive material cannot be shared on those messaging platforms.