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GovChat pleased with interim order to stay on WhatsApp

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GovChat founder and CEO Eldrid Jordaan.
GovChat founder and CEO Eldrid Jordaan.

Government’s official citizen engagement platform, GovChat, has welcomed the Competition Tribunal’s interim order in response to the urgent application it launched to prevent its off-boarding.

Last week, the tribunal issued an order which regulates the arrangements between GovChat, WhatsApp and Facebook, saying it remains in place until its final decision in GovChat’s interim relief application.

GovChat, Facebook and WhatsApp’s are at odds. At the heart of the dispute is the world’s largest social media platform, Facebook, wanting to off-board GovChat from its popular messaging service, WhatsApp.

Facebook alleges the official citizen engagement platform for government is in violation of WhatsApp’s terms of use.

However, GovChat maintains it has not breached WhatsApp's policy, and has asked the independent adjudicative body to interdict and restrain Facebook from “off-boarding” GovChat from WhatsApp.

GovChat argues that its off-boarding is anti-competitive conduct and contrary to the prescripts of Competition Law in South Africa.

As the parties were unable to agree on arrangements among themselves during the interim period, the tribunal said it decided to issue the interim order.

The order prevents the removal of GovChat from WhatsApp, and Facebook and WhatsApp have also been ordered not to undermine GovChat’s relationship with its clients.

In turn, GovChat has been ordered not to on-board any new clients or users to the WhatsApp business account.

In a statement, GovChat says it is mindful of the issues the tribunal needs to consider in reaching final conclusions on its interdict application.

“We welcome this interim order, which prioritised the importance of the health and social challenges of the people of South Africa, particularly given the critical and essential services that GovChat currently provides to departments of government during this seemingly endless COVID-19 pandemic.”

Founded in 2016 and launched in 2018, GovChat is the official communications platform for government. It is an open government partnership with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

GovChat says its digital technologies and applications enable real-time feedback and reporting, through its mobile device chatbot. The GovChat digital interface is available across multiple channels, the most dominant being WhatsApp, it notes.

“We eagerly await the judgement of the Competition Tribunal on the interdict application,” says GovChat.

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