Delhi High Court Tells WhatsApp To Respond To CCI In Privacy Policy Probe

WhatsApp logo seen in a mobile phone. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Delhi High Court Tells WhatsApp To Respond To CCI In Privacy Policy Probe

A two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court refused to grant relief to WhatsApp in an ongoing investigation against it by the competition regulator.

The Facebook-owned messaging platform had approached the high court seeking a stay on inquiries being made by the Competition Commission of India’s investigation wing, that is the Director General. On June 4, the DG had sent a letter posing 22 queries as part of its investigation against WhatsApp’s privacy policy.

As is standard language, the DG’s letter stated that if WhatsApp failed to provide information, penalty may be imposed on it for non-compliance. The messaging platform argued before the high court that the DG’s effort is to take precipitate action against it even as the issue is pending before court.

In March, the CCI had made a prima facie finding that WhatsApp has contravened competition law provisions through its “exploitative and exclusionary conduct” in the garb of the privacy policy update.

WhatsApp challenged this order before the Delhi High Court. On April 30, a single-judge bench of Justice Navin Chawla dismissed WhatsApp’s arguments and held the competition regulator hasn’t exceeded its jurisdiction in directing the investigation.

WhatsApp appealed this before a division bench which, on May 6, refused to grant a stay on the CCI’s investigation and posted the matter for further hearings.

Meanwhile, the regulator proceeded with its investigation and asked WhatsApp for information. Soon after, the messaging platform approached the vacation bench for relief saying the CCI is proceeding with its investigation even as the issue is pending before the division bench.

The DG’s letter “is an act of overreach of the judicial process, which deserves to be restrained”, senior advocate Harish Salve had said while arguing for WhatsApp.

But the high court dismissed this plea pointing out that no stay had been granted on the CCI’s investigation by the division bench before which WhatsApp’s appeal is pending. And so, there’s no reason to grant a stay essentially seeking a similar relief, that is, the DG should be stopped from proceeding with its investigation.

Arguing for the regulator, Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi told the court that the DG will not finalise its report before the next date of hearing on July 9. The DG will take substantial time to prepare the report, after which it will be forwarded to the CCI. And so concerns around the CCI taking a final decision while the matter is being heard by the court, should not arise, Lekhi said.

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