In a major setback to Meta, the parent company of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, the Supreme Court on Friday dismissed Meta’s plea against the competition commission of India’s probe (CCI) in relation to the 2021 WhatsApp privacy policy. The apex court has said that CCI is an independent body and has the necessary jurisdiction to conduct the investigation while asking the antitrust watchdog to conduct the probe at the earliest. 

Notably, the Delhi High Court had also rejected Facebook India’s, a subsidiary of Meta, plea regarding the stay by CCI probe in relation to the privacy policy.

Both WhatsApp and Meta have argued that the anti-trust watchdog cannot investigate the privacy policy as it has been kept in abeyance until the introduction of the revised data protection bill. The revised personal data protection bill which was introduced last year has been pulled back by the government in August this year. The government said that a revised version of the data protection bill will be introduced following discussions with various stakeholders. 

The Mark Zuckerberg-led company has been under CCI’s radar since it introduced the 2021 WhatsApp privacy policy last year. Like in other countries, the CCI is investigating WhatsApp and Facebook over alleged violation of users’ privacy and competition norms through their privacy policy. 

In January last year, the anti-trust regulator launched a probe against WhatsApp in relation to the infringement of the user’s privacy as the social media messaging platform shares users’ data with Meta, its parent company. 

Following this, in March last year, the CCI’s director general launched an investigation against Facebook India, making it an opposite party, by saying that Facebook is the parent company of the social media platform and can potentially exploit the data. The anti-trust regulator also said that the excess data collection by the messaging platform can lead to targeted advertising of consumers, thus putting it in a dominant position in the market and violating the existing competition norms in India. 

Despite the social media platform reiterating several times that its privacy policy is end-to-end encrypted, CCI has alleged that in order to retain the dominant status in the market and to retain customers, it uses consumer data in order to personalise and customise its platform. The CCI said that this violates some sections of the Competition Act. Notably, apart from introducing the personal data bill, the government has also introduced Competition Bill, 2022, in order to protect customer privacy. 

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