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CCI initiates investigation into WhatsApp’s privacy policy update

CCI initiates investigation into WhatsApp’s privacy policy update
Photo Credit: Pexels
25 Mar, 2021

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has ordered a probe into the recent privacy policy update introduced by WhatsApp in January.  

The competition watchdog, in its order issued on Wednesday, said that the Facebook-owned messenger app had prima facie contravened Section 4 of the Competition Act through its “exploitative and exclusionary conduct” as an over the top (OTT) messaging app. 

“A thorough and detailed investigation is required to ascertain the full extent, scope and impact of data sharing through involuntary consent of users,” the order said.  

CCI took suo-moto cognizance of the matter on January 19. WhatsApp and Facebook publicly issued a response to the issue on February 25. Separately, WhatsApp filed a confidential version of its responses earlier on February 3. 

WhatsApp, in a privacy policy update, dated December 28, 2020 said that it will be sharing user information across Facebook group of companies. The policy did not include a clause to opt out of the update for users without foregoing the use of WhatsApp’s services and was scheduled to come into effect on February 8.

However, on the back of concern and migration of users to other alternatives such as telegram and Signal, WhatsApp delayed the implementation to May.  

The CCI order observed, “Simply put, it appears that consent to sharing and integration of user data with other Facebook Companies for a range of purposes including marketing and advertising, has been made a precondition for availing WhatsApp service.” 

The order also stated that “…Facebook is feigning ignorance about the potential impact of the updates altogether…” based on the company’s response to be left out of the proceedings by CCI.  

Meanwhile the Supreme Court has also issued a notice to WhatsApp in February citing concerns from people that their messages can be accessed by Facebook in the light of the updated privacy policy.  

The director general of CCI has been directed to submit the report on the investigation within 60 days.