India antitrust body orders investigation into WhatsApp’s privacy policy changes

WhatsApp’s planned policy changes aren’t sailing smoothly in India, the instant messaging service’s biggest market by users. Indian antitrust body, Competition Commission of India, on Wednesday ordered (PDF) an investigation into WhatsApp’s privacy policy changes, saying that Facebook-owned service breached local antitrust laws in the guise of a policy update.

WhatsApp didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Indian watchdog said it has ordered nation’s Director General (DG) to investigate WhatsApp’s new policy to “ascertain the full extent, scope and impact of data sharing through involuntary consent of users.” The Director General has been ordered to complete the investigation and submit the report within 60 days.

“Given the pronounced network effects it enjoys, and the absence of any credible competitor in the instant messaging market in India, WhatsApp appears to be in a position to compromise quality in terms of protection of individualised data and can deem it unnecessary to even retain the user-friendly alternatives such as ‘opt-out’ choices, without the fear of erosion of its user base,” the order reads.

“As per the 2021 update to the privacy policy, a business may give third-party service provider such as Facebook access to its communications to send, store, read, manage, or otherwise process them for the business. It may be possible that Facebook will condition provision of such services to businesses with a requirement for using the data collected by them. The DG may also investigate these aspects during its investigation.”

The move on Wednesday follows months long legal battle WhatsApp has been fighting in India over its new policy update, which goes into effect in May this year. Last week, the Indian government alleged that WhatsApp’s planned privacy update violates local laws on several counts. In a filing to the Delhi High Court, the federal government also asked the court to prevent the Facebook-owned messaging app from rolling out the update in India.

Earlier this year, India’s IT ministry had written to Will Cathcart, the head of WhatsApp, to express its “grave concerns” about the update and its implications and had “called upon to withdraw the proposed changes.”

This is a developing story. More to follow…

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