Sat, 27 Feb 2021

  • The Competition Tribunal has issued an interim order preventing Facebook and WhatsApp from removing GovChat from their business platform.
  • The order also bars GovChat from canvassing more clients on the platform or expanding its offering to existing clients.
  • Hearings of GovChat's application to stop WhatsApp from removing its chatbot service from the application continue.

The Competition Tribunal announced that Facebook's instant messaging application WhatsApp cannot remove GovChat from its business service platform or undermine its operations while the dispute between the two is being heard by the Tribunal.

The hearings into an application by GovChat and its subsidiary #LetsTalk to stay on WhatsApp's business service began last week after WhatsApp indicated its intention to off-board GovChat's chatbot service from the platform claiming GovChat breaching its terms of agreement.

GovChat uses chatbot services on WhatsApp as a contact mechanism between various government departments and ordinary South Africans, allowing citizens to make queries on things such as the South African Social Security Agency's social relief of distress grant.

"The Tribunal has issued an order which regulates the arrangements between GovChat, WhatsApp and Facebook from now until the Tribunal issues its decision in GovChat's interim relief application against WhatsApp and Facebook," the statement said.

The statement said in the interim WhatsApp and Facebook may not undermine GovChat's relationship with its clients and GovChat may not add any new clients or users to the WhatsApp Business Account or expand their offering to existing clients on the platform.

On Monday the representative for Facebook South Africa and WhatsApp Advocate Jerome Wilson told the Tribunal that GovChat sought to make itself a communications platform for government while it was not government owned, accessing sensitive information.

Representing GovChat and #LetsTalk Advocate Paul Farlam said his clients were exposed to "a real risk of competitive harm" due to the manner in which WhatsApp's handling of this situation.

Farlam said it was clear from remarks made in the past by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg that a payment system via WhatsApp was a project the tech company was working on delivering imminently and that locking GovChat out would give WhatsApp an advantage.

Source: News24

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