Antitrust probe to protect the rights of our WhatsApp users

The Su-Moto order issued by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) to launch an investigation into WhatsApp’s new privacy policy is an exercise in appreciation and admiration for its legitimate role as a defender of consumer rights and unhindered competition in our market. In January, a Facebook-owned app caused a stir by unilaterally asking its users to accept new terms that allow it to share more private information with Facebook for advertising and commercial purposes. The reason for the outrage is that if we live in the European Union, WhatsApp cannot do this because it is banned under its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law. The incident raised demands for a similar data protection law in India.

Knowing the potential impact of WhatsApp policy on Indian consumers, CCI stands for Free Market and Consumer Privacy Rights, describing it in its reasonable and detailed Prima-Face Order as “Exception” and “Exploitation”. While the policy is under judicial scrutiny, the CCI investigation calls its vision expertise to protect WhatsApp’s 530 million Indian users. India is still awaiting the finalization of its Personal Data Protection Act, which is currently under review by a Joint Parliamentary Committee.

When formulating regulations for large technology companies in India, it is essential to carefully consider the trade between allowing access and protecting the privacy of consumers. The invasion of privacy and the alteration of private data can easily take the form of non-price competition. As correctly confirmed by CCI, non-pricing parameters in the digital market have great potential to distort market competition. As companies follow data aggregation, it is important to consider how far consumers can ‘freely comply’ with the demands of a dominant player. In the case of WhatsApp’s new privacy policy, this is a ‘take or leave’ proposition, which is a violation of multiple calculations. As stated in the CCI order, these include unfair terms and conditions imposed by the dominant player, potential distortion of the competitive market by priceless parameters and violation of the ‘abuse of dominance’ rules under Section 4 (2) of the Competition. Law.

Decreased privacy — when an organization collects data for a purpose and forces users to use that data for other purposes — is seriously detrimental to users and their privacy. Low data protection, combined with data cross-linking in services provided by group security firms, can create a vicious cycle in which a dominant player collects and / or abuses large amounts of personal data, restricting user freedom of choice. If the customer does not have the ability to go out, or gives too much data, he / she will unknowingly lose the option in the process and be exploited. More dangerously, social media platforms can secretly change and influence the behavior of users.

From a free-market perspective, it also implements the irreversible process of priceless competition in which big tech companies with big data can elbow small startups or buy them into killer acquisitions. The barrier to entry for new technology companies that do not have existing reservoirs of consumer data is too high, and even the brightest of our inventors will have to give up.

Looking around, the Japanese market regulator came up with guidelines in 2019 stating that any use of personal information, including consumer purchasing history and location, is “abuse of the highest bargaining position” without their permission, which is a violation of Japan’s Anti-Monopoly Act. In Germany, a German federal court was found guilty of forcing Facebook users to share their data with other Facebook-owned companies, such as WhatsApp and Instagram. ) Examining these methods. Late last year, the FTC filed a lawsuit against Facebook for illegally operating a monopoly on social networking. It alleges that the company used acquisitions and software restrictions on developers to keep competitors from succeeding.

On WhatsApp, the full picture will be released after the CCI Director General of Investigation completes the investigation, who will make the report after hearing the relevant parties. CCI then listens to the parties. What WhatsApp has done in India is abuse its dominant position as the country’s go-to instant messaging app on various accounts.

Oddly enough, WhatsApp, which is much loved by its domestic users, has chosen to do the same in India, which is the fastest growing economy, the app’s largest user base and its largest data reservoir. The platform has played a key role in connecting people and helping small businesses. But remember that world-class regulators act as umpires to show red and yellow flags on the playing field.

Dhanendra Kumar is a former chairman of the Competition Commission of India.

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