WhatsApp really is trying its best to upset as many users as it possibly can. Last week it announced an exceptionally intrusive change to its terms and conditions and this week it’s been taken to South Africa’s Competition Tribunal by GovChat. It’s alleged that WhatsApp unfairly removed GovChat, a free bot set up by the South African government to distribute information and provide select services to citizens, from its platform due to an alleged breach of its terms of service.
GovChat insists that it’s done no such thing and has thus taken the matter to those who can potentially undo the banning. Advocate Paul Farlam, who’s representing GovChat in court, stated that the reasoning behind the removal was unjustified and arbitrary. “[A] supplementary founding affidavit says that GovChat was started to help the response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a separate WhatsApp communication. GovChat is offered pro bono. It is offered free, yet WhatsApp wants to offboard it,” stated Farlam.
GovChat VS WhatsApp
WhatsApp has stated that in order for GovChat to remain on its platform every government department would need to sign up for a WhatsApp Business account which, if you ask us, is beyond ridiculous. GovChat isn’t a business, it’s a government service. It’s a means to distribute necessary information to citizens through one of the most accessible and immediate social media platforms in the country. Removing the app not only cuts off a large swathe of the population from receiving important information (especially during a pandemic) but will also cost government millions as they try and set up alternative distribution networks.
Furthermore, Farlam stated that Facebook, who owns WhatsApp, was blocking any attempts to find a different business solution provider. Synthesis, a local BSP, applied to fill that role for GovChat but was rejected by Facebook with a vague excuse given as to why this would be the case.
The Competition Tribunal has yet to respond to these complaints but as soon as a decision is reached we’ll be sure to update you.