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NEW DELHI : The Competition Commission of India (CCI) on Wednesday said it has ordered an investigation into the updated privacy policy and service terms of WhatsApp for suspected anti-competitive practices.

The regulator ordered the probe on its own accord for alleged violations relating to abuse of dominance and entering into agreements that stifle competition.

CCI asked its director-general of investigation to complete the probe in two months, the order uploaded on its website showed.

A spokesperson for WhatsApp said the company was committed to protecting users’ personal communications. “We look forward to engaging with the CCI. WhatsApp remains committed to protecting people’s personal communications with end-to-end encryption and providing transparency about how these new optional business features work," the WhatsApp spokesperson said.

The regulator noted that it was reported in media that WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy and terms of service force users to accept the terms.

It said that WhatsApp’s notification to users suggested that to be able to use the services of the platform from 8 February onwards, users will have to mandatorily accept the new terms and policy in their entirety, including sharing of their data across all information categories with other Facebook companies.

Unlike previous privacy policy versions of August 2016 and December 2019, every WhatsApp user has to mandatorily agree to such data sharing with Facebook, CCI noted.

According to the regulator, “the conduct of WhatsApp in sharing of users’ personalized data with other Facebook companies, in a manner that is neither fully transparent nor based on voluntary and specific user consent, appears prima facie unfair to users."

CCI also said that the purpose of such sharing appears to be beyond users’ reasonable and legitimate expectations regarding quality, security and other relevant aspects of the service for which they register on WhatsApp.

The regulator alleged that WhatsApp has prima facie breached the provisions of Section 4 of the Act (dealing with abuse of dominance) through “its exploitative and exclusionary conduct, in the garb of a policy update."

A thorough and detailed investigation is required to ascertain the full extent, scope and impact of data sharing through involuntary consent of users, said the CCI order.

WhatsApp’s data sharing with other Facebook products indicates the intended use of building user profiles through cross-linking of data collected across services, the regulator said, adding that such data concentration may itself raise competition concerns where it is perceived as a competitive advantage.

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