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WhatsApp defends itself as Consumer Commission swoops, saying GovChat refused to comply with policies

Facebook, now known as Meta Platforms Inc, accused of abuse of dominance

Ernest Mabuza Journalist
Facebook, now known as Meta Platforms Inc, is accused of abuse of dominance. File photo.
Facebook, now known as Meta Platforms Inc, is accused of abuse of dominance. File photo.
Image: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

WhatsApp on Tuesday said GovChat had refused to comply with its policies designed to protect citizens and their information.

Instead, it said, GovChat has prioritised its own commercial interests over the public.

WhatsApp was reacting to an announcement by the Competition Commission on Monday that it has referred social media giant Facebook and its subsidiaries WhatsApp and Facebook SA to the Competition Tribunal for prosecution.

Facebook, now known as Meta Platforms Inc, is accused of abuse of dominance. 

The commission alleged Facebook decided in or about July 2020 to remove GovChat — a technology start-up that connects government and citizens — from the WhatsApp Business Application Programming Interface (WhatsApp Business API).

The threat to remove GovChat from the WhatsApp platform was due to an alleged violation of the contractual terms of use.

It is alleged GovChat, a private, for-profit company operating in a highly competitive market, provides messaging services which do not comply with the WhatsApp terms of service.

The WhatsApp terms of service are designed to protect users and businesses from fraud and abuse. 

The commission said the conduct by Meta and WhatsApp was in contravention of the Competition Act, which prohibits a dominant firm from abusing its dominance by engaging in exclusionary conduct geared at preventing competitors or potential competitors from entering into, participating in and expanding in a market.

In its response on Tuesday, WhatsApp said it helps to provide people with important information from trusted sources, and was aware of the role the service plays in connecting SA citizens with their government.

GovChat has repeatedly refused to comply with our policies designed to protect citizens and their information
WhatsApp spokesperson

“That’s why we want to work with GovChat in compliance with internationally recognised regulatory standards to provide this service.

“However, GovChat has repeatedly refused to comply with our policies designed to protect citizens and their information, preferring to prioritise its own commercial interests over the public,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said WhatsApp will defend its platform from abuse and protect its users.

The commission has asked the tribunal to impose a maximum penalty against Meta Platforms, WhatsApp and Facebook SA in an amount equal to 10% of their collective turnover.

In addition, the commission has requested the tribunal to interdict Facebook from offboarding GovChat from the WhatsApp Business API and to declare void certain exclusionary terms and conditions for access to the WhatsApp Business API.  

WhatsApp had previously said its conduct has been consistent with the provisions of the Competition Act and it was simply looking to apply its terms and conditions fairly. 

TimesLIVE


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