The antitrust body has taken a prima facie view that Facebook-owned WhatsApp’s new policy is in contravention of India’s Competition Act “through its exploitative and exclusionary conduct…in the garb of policy update”. It has also asked the director general to launch an anti-trust investigation under Section 26 (1) of the Competition Act and submit a report within 60 days.
The probe into the instant messaging platform’s policies follows not only the increasing scrutiny of the messaging platform’s updated terms but also a series of regulatory measures by Indian authorities against Big Tech companies. On January 4, WhatsApp’s updated policy terms were first announced via an in-app notification to users, asking them to agree to the new terms by February 8 or lose access to their accounts. As both users and privacy activists raised the alarm, WhatsApp clarified that the changes were necessary to help businesses through WhatsApp Business. The deadline was later extended till May 15.
The CCI, on January 19, decided to take suo moto cognisance of the potential impact of the policy and terms for WhatsApp’s users and the market. WhatsApp India, which has 53 crore users in the country, said it remained committed to “protecting people’s personal communications with end-to-end encryption”. “We look forward to engaging with the CCI. WhatsApp remains committed to protecting people’s personal communications with end-to-end encryption and providing transparency about how these new optional business features work,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said.
“Users have not been provided with appropriate granular choice, neither upfront nor in the fine prints, to object to or opt-out of specific data sharing terms, which prima facie appear to be unfair and unreasonable for the WhatsApp users,” the CCI noted.
During the hearing of the case, the CJI-led Bench had observed that WhatsApp “may be $2-3 trillion companies”, but people valued their privacy more than money and it was the court’s duty to protect privacy.
Last November, the CCI had ordered a probe into Google’s payments app for allegedly abusing its dominant position to force app developers to use its billing system for in-app purchases, and for bundling Google Pay with Android smartphones sold in India.
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