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Social media platform WhatsApp denies alleged anticompetitive behaviour

WhatsApp has denied it was engaged in anti-competitive conduct and that it had tried to exclude GovChat from the market. Picture: Webster2703/Pixabay

WhatsApp has denied it was engaged in anti-competitive conduct and that it had tried to exclude GovChat from the market. Picture: Webster2703/Pixabay

Published Mar 16, 2022

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WHATSAPP has denied it was engaged in anti-competitive conduct and that it had tried to exclude GovChat from the market.

The social media platform was responding to the Competition Commission’s plan to refer Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) and its subsidiaries WhatsApp and Facebook South Africa to the Competition Tribunal for prosecution for abuse of dominance.

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The Commission wants Meta Platforms and its subsidiaries to face a maximum fine of 10 percent of their turnover.

However, “GovChat has repeatedly refused to comply with our policies that are designed to protect citizens and their information, preferring to prioritise its own commercial interests over the public. We will continue to defend WhatsApp from abuse and protect our users,” a statement from WhatsApp said yesterday.

The Competition Commission alleged that Facebook had decided about July 2020 to off-board GovChat and #LetsTalk, a technology start-up that connects the South African government and citizens, from the WhatsApp Business Application Programming Interface (WhatsApp Business API).

Facebook had also allegedly selectively enforced exclusionary terms and conditions regulating access to the WhatsApp Business API, mainly restrictions on the use of data.

The WhatsApp spokesperson said their platform helps to provide 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. That’s why we want to work with GovChat in compliance with internationally recognised regulatory standards.”

The spokesperson said WhatsApp was “simply looking to apply its terms and conditions fairly” and that there was “no evidence whatsoever to suggest that WhatsApp has tried to exclude any firm from the market or engaged in anticompetitive conduct.”

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“GovChat is a private, for-profit company operating in a highly competitive market. It knowingly provides messaging services, which do not comply with the WhatsApp Terms of Service.

“GovChat broke these terms by signing up organisations to the WhatsApp API without going through our on-boarding process. This is required for all organisations who wish to use our service and means we know who is using our services and that organisations agree to our privacy practices,” WhatsApp said.

The WhatsApp Business API enables medium and large businesses (and government) to, among other things, message at scale, make use of advanced automation, integrate with eCommerce, build chatbots and use tracking metrics.

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GovChat’s service launched in 2018 and enabled the public to engage with all spheres of government to report a wide variety of issues such as pothole location and other service delivery requirements.

It had also enabled the government to disseminate information to the public, such as information related to Covid-19 system tracking, testing and vaccination.

“The intended off-boarding of GovChat from the WhatsApp Business API will harm consumer welfare by removing the efficiency of the GovChat, which allows the public to communicate with multiple government bodies through a single platform, and will also deprive government of the current services offered by the GovChat,” the Commission said.

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