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CCI orders probe on WhatsApp's new privacy policy

Widespread backlash forced the tech giant to defer the policy to 15 May.

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NEW DELHI: The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has launched an investigation into WhatsApp’s new privacy policy, amid the raging debate over users’ privacy on social media platforms.

The antitrust body has taken a prima facie view that the messaging app’s new policy is in contravention of India’s Competition Act. "…the Commission is of the considered opinion that WhatsApp has prima facie contravened the provisions of Section 4 of the Act through its exploitative and exclusionary conduct, in the garb of policy update,” said the order passed by the CCI, as reported by legal website LiveLaw.

The development comes days after the Centre urged the Delhi high court to restrain the Facebook-owned platform from implementing its controversial new privacy terms, stating that the terms are not in alignment with 2011 IT rules.

The controversial policy was initially expected to come into effect on 8 February but was later deferred to 15 May amid severe backlash from users. The app plans to make it mandatory for users to agree to its new data-sharing norms, a key point of which is allegedly sharing data from WhatsApp business chats with Facebook. Since there was no opt-out option, there were apprehensions about privacy which led people to migrate to alternate messaging apps, like Signal and Telegram.

On 19 January, the CCI took a suo motu cognisance of the potential impact of the policy and terms for WhatsApp’s users and the market. In its statement, WhatsApp had stated that it “remains committed to protecting people’s personal communications with end-to-end encryption and providing transparency about how these new optional business features work.”

According to media reports, CCI has pinpointed several other concerns with the new privacy policy, including aspects such as the “opacity, vagueness, open-endedness and incomplete disclosures” hiding the actual data cost that a user incurs for availing WhatsApp services.

India is also the messaging app's biggest user base, with over 400 million users across the country. Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had also asserted that any digital platform must maintain the sanctity of personal communication and not infringe upon the rights of Indians who operate it.

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