Home South African Competition Commission wants Facebook and WhatsApp to be fined

Competition Commission wants Facebook and WhatsApp to be fined

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The Competition Commission yesterday referred Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) and its subsidiaries WhatsApp and Facebook South Africa to the Competition Tribunal for prosecution for abuse of dominance.

The Competition Commission yesterday referred Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) and its subsidiaries WhatsApp and Facebook South Africa to the Competition Tribunal for prosecution for abuse of dominance. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

THE Competition Commission on Monday referred Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) and its subsidiaries WhatsApp and Facebook South Africa to the Competition Tribunal for prosecution for abuse of dominance.

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

The Commission alleged on Monday, that Facebook had decided around July 2020 to offboard GovChat and #LetsTalk, a technology start-up that connects 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 Commission said this was in contravention of the Competition Act, which prohibits a dominant firm from abusing its dominance by engaging in exclusionary conduct geared at preventing competitors or potential competitors from entering into, participating, and expanding in a market.

The WhatsApp Business API enables medium and large businesses (and government) to, among other things, message at scale; makes use of advanced automation; integrates with existing eCommerce, builds chatbots and features tracking metrics.

GovChat launched a platform in 2018 which enables 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.

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

GovChat enabled the poor to apply on-line for social relief and distress grants. It had also provided the government with “unprecedented insight into service delivery issues in real time,” and had provided the government with the ability to provide targeted solutions more efficiently, the commission said.

“The intended offboarding 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.

The decision to offboard GovChat from the WhatsApp Business API, and the exclusionary terms for access, limited innovation and the development of new products and services, the commission said.

The commission found that the terms governing access to the WhatsApp Business API were designed to shield Facebook from potential competition.

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