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Delhi HC dismisses WhatsApp, Facebook pleas against CCI order

India is WhatAapp’s biggest user base, with over 400 million users across the country.

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New Delhi: The Delhi high court on Thursday dismissed the plea filed by Facebook and WhatsApp challenging the Competition Commission of India (CCI) order directing a probe into its controversial new privacy policy. The court said it found no merits in the petition and refused to quash the CCI probe.

The CCI had launched an investigation into WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy on 24 March, amid the raging debate over users’ data and privacy on social media platforms. The antitrust body had taken a prima facie view that the messaging app’s new terms of use are in contravention of India’s Competition Act. 

WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook had challenged the CCI's order through two separate petitions, and the court had decided to reserve its judgement during a hearing on 13 April.

According to CCI,  WhatsApp's new privacy policy would lead to excessive data collection and "stalking" of consumers for targeted advertising to bring in more users and is therefore an alleged abuse of dominant position. On the other hand, the two social media platforms had contended that when the top court and the Delhi high court were looking into the privacy policy, then CCI ought not to have intervened in the issue. They also argued that the CCI's decision was an abuse of the commission's suo motu jurisdiction. WhatsApp also told the court that private conversations continued to be protected by end to end encryption and the messaging app cannot read the texts or see the media files that people send each other.

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. 

On 19 January, the CCI took 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.”

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