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CCI orders WhatsApp privacy policy investigation

Competition Commission of India (CCI) has ordered an investigation into the revised privacy policy and terms of service of the social media platform WhatsApp LLC over allegations of competition.

The CCI has ordered its own investigation into alleged breaches of the rules relating to power struggles and the entering into of anti-competitive agreements. The CCI requested the Director-General of Investigations to complete the investigation within two months, displaying the CCI order uploaded to the regulator’s website.

A WhatsApp spokesman said the company was committed to protecting user communications. “We look forward to meeting with the CCI. WhatsApp remains committed to protecting people’s communication through end-to-end writing and providing transparency on how these new business features of your choice work,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said.

The administrator noted that it was reported in the media that the updated WhatsApp privacy policy and user terms oblige users to accept the terms. It says a WhatsApp notification to users suggested that in order to use the platform services from February 8 onwards, users will be able to accept the new terms and policies as well as share their information across all sectors and Facebook Companies. Unlike previous versions of the privacy policy of August 2016 and December 2019, every WhatsApp user must agree to authorize such data sharing with Facebook, CCI noted.

According to the administrator, “the creation of WhatsApp by sharing user-generated information with other Facebook Companies, in a completely anonymous way or based on the voluntary and specific user consent, seems prima facie inappropriate for users.”

CCI also said that the purpose of such sharing seems to exceed the reasonable and legitimate expectations of users in terms of quality, security and other relevant aspects of the service they subscribe to WhatsApp.

The administrator alleges that WhatsApp violated the first law in violation of the provisions of Section 4 of the Act (dealing with abuse of power) by using its “exploitation and exclusionary policy, in the context of policy renewal.”

A thorough and detailed investigation is needed to determine the size, size and impact of data sharing on the voluntary consent of users, the CCI directive said.

Data sharing of WhatsApp and other Facebook products reflects the intended use of building user profiles by linking data collected across all services, the administrator said, adding that such data itself could raise competition concerns when considered as a competitive advantage.

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