March 16, 2022

Meta Faces Prosecution In South Africa For Allegedly Abusing Its Dominance

Social media giant Meta Platforms, Inc., formerly known as Facebook, Inc., faces prosecution in South Africa for unfairly trying to block local startups from using its WhatsApp Business Application Programming Interface (API), a government agency said Monday.

It comes after the country’s competition regulator, the Competition Commission, said in a statement that it has referred Meta Platforms and its subsidiaries WhatsApp Inc and Facebook South Africa to the Competition Tribunal for prosecution for abusing its market dominance.

According to Anadolu Agency, the commission alleges that Facebook in July 2020 threatened to block local startups GovChat, a local civic engagement platform providing various government-sanctioned communications services, and #LetsTalk from using its WhatsApp Business API.

GovChat reportedly claimed that Facebook wanted to block it from the WhatsApp platform to replace it by directly offering similar services to the South African government.

GovChat was launched in 2018 by the South African government as a citizen engagement platform that uses the WhatsApp Business API to facilitate real-time communication. The government has also used it to process social security applications, including for distress support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is 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,” said the Competition Commission.

The commission said it had asked the Competition Tribunal to impose a maximum penalty against Meta Platforms, WhatsApp, and Facebook South Africa, which is 10 percent of their collective turnover.

But Meta, in a statement, said that there was “no evidence to suggest that WhatsApp has tried to exclude any firm from the market or engaged in anticompetitive conduct,” while stating that GovChat was a private business that had breached set terms by “signing up organizations to the WhatsApp API without going through our on-boarding process.

“This is required for all organizations who wish to use our service and means we know who is using our services and that organizations agree to our privacy practices … WhatsApp will defend its right to take all reasonable steps to protect its proprietary WhatsApp Business API and the interests of users across the world,” Meta said in the statement.

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Abbianca Makoni

Abbianca Makoni is a content executive and writer at POCIT! She has years of experience reporting on critical issues affecting diverse communities around the globe.