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Turkey’s competition authority launches investigation into WhatsApp over privacy change

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Turkey’s Competition Board has launched an investigation into messaging app WhatsApp and its owner, Facebook Inc., due to a recent decision from WhatsApp requiring users in Turkey to agree to a controversial new privacy policy.

A statement from the board on Monday noted that the obligation to agree to the new privacy policy has been suspended for Turkish users, which prompted many people in Turkey to quit WhatsApp and switch to other apps they deem more secure such as Signal, Telegram or BiP, a rival application from Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri AS.

The board said the investigation into WhatsApp and Facebook has been launched to examine whether Article 6 of Law No. 4054 on the Protection of Competition has been violated with the new obligation introduced by WhatsApp.

WhatsApp updated its terms of service last Wednesday, allowing Facebook and its subsidiaries to collect user data that would allow for more targeted advertisements. The deadline for agreeing to the new terms is Feb. 8.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been receiving growing criticism for targeting social media companies operating in Turkey with a new social media law that went into force in October. The controversial law requires social media companies to respond within 48 hours to requests to remove content, a broad power that allows authorities to block access to anything they might consider illegal, and among other things appoint local representatives to Turkey.

Giant social media companies such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter were given hefty fines in November and December for failing to appoint local representatives to Turkey in line with the new law. YouTube announced later in December that it would soon appoint a local representative but assured its users that it would maintain its commitment to transparency, freedom of expression and access to information.

The AKP and its opposition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), pressed for the new law, arguing that it would end the insult and harassment of individuals through the use of social media.

The new law also requires the companies to store data from users on local servers.

The measures are feared to give the government more leverage against critics in a country that already monitors social media closely and has previously blocked access to websites, including Twitter.

In the meantime, officials from the Turkish presidency said in statements made through WhatsApp on Sunday, that the president’s media office was quitting WhatsApp due to the change in its privacy policy and would from Monday onward update journalists via BiP.

According to Turkish state media quoting Turkcell, BiP gained more than 1.12 million users in just 24 hours, boasting more than 53 million users worldwide.

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