WhatsApp faces trial in South Africa

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The Competition Tribunal says it will hear an application on Tuesday, 18 April, involving the Competition Commission prosecuting Meta Platforms for the alleged abuse of its market dominance in South Africa.

Meta Platforms was previously known as Facebook Inc. and owns the WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook social networks.

GovChat and its subsidiary #LetsTalk brought an application to intervene in the pending Tribunal hearing between the Competition Commission and Meta Platforms.

“GovChat and #LetsTalk are seeking participation rights in the pending Tribunal proceedings on the basis that their interests are not adequately represented by the Commission,” the Tribunal stated.

“They wish to participate in relation to the interdictory relief sought by the Commission in the complaint referral.”

The relief the Commission wants includes interdicting Meta from off-boarding GovChat and #LetsTalk from WhatsApp, and an interdict blocking Meta from implementing and enforcing alleged “exclusionary terms”.

The dispute between GovChat and Facebook dates back to mid–2020. It landed before the Competition Commission in January 2021.

According to GovChat, Facebook wanted to kick them off WhatsApp to deal directly with the South African government by offering similar services.

GovChat describes itself as a civic engagement platform that offers various government-sanctioned communications services.

It told the Commission that Facebook had gone to GovChat’s clients within government to inform them that they were about to be “off-boarded” from the WhatsApp Business API platform.

Facebook argued that GovChat repeatedly refused to comply with its terms of service and refused its offers of help to become compliant.

It said that even though GovChat was not authorised by any government department to render services to citizens, its name created the impression that it was an official government site.

Facebook also asserted that GovChat had gathered sensitive personal information from citizens without controls limiting how it might share this information with third parties.

GovChat’s arguments have persuaded the Competition Commission, which escalated the matter for prosecution.

The Commission also asked the Tribunal to impose the maximum penalty against Meta Platforms, WhatsApp, and Facebook South Africa — which is 10% of their collective turnover.

Meta Platforms told MyBroadband that it wants to work with GovChat to provide its services.

“WhatsApp plays a vital role in providing people with important information from trusted sources, and we are aware of the role the service plays in connecting South African citizens with their government,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said.

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

WhatsApp reiterated that GovChat repeatedly refused to comply with its policies, which it said are designed to protect citizens and their information.

Instead, GovChat preferred to prioritise its own commercial interests over the public.

“We will continue to defend WhatsApp from abuse and protect our users,” said Meta.

Credit – https://mybroadband.co.za/news/internet/488057-whatsapp-faces-prosecution-in-south-africa.html#:~:text=The%20Competition%20Tribunal%20says%20it,market%20dominance%20in%20South%20Africa.

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