Social media giant Meta Platforms, Inc., formerly known as Facebook, Inc., is facing prosecution in South Africa for unfairly trying to block local startups from using its WhatsApp Business Application Programming Interface (API), a government agency said Monday.

The Competition Commission said in a statement that it has referred Meta Platforms and its subsidiaries WhatsApp Inc and Facebook South Africa to the Competition Tribunal for prosecution for abusing its market dominance.

The commission alleges that Facebook in July 2020 threatened to block local startups GovChat and #LetsTalk from using its WhatsApp Business API.

GovChat is a local civic engagement platform providing various government-sanctioned communications services.

GovChat claimed that Facebook wanted to block it from the WhatsApp platform so that they could replace it by directly offering similar services to the South African government.

“This is in contravention of the Competition Act, (which) prohibits a dominant firm from abusing its dominance by engaging in exclusionary conduct geared at preventing competitors or potential competitors from entering into, participating and expanding in a market,” said the Competition Commission.

The commission said it has asked the Competition Tribunal to impose a maximum penalty against Meta Platforms, WhatsApp and Facebook South Africa which is 10% of their collective turnover.

“In addition, the Commission has requested the Tribunal to interdict Facebook from off-boarding GovChat from the WhatsApp Business API and to declare void certain exclusionary terms and conditions for access to the WhatsApp Business API,” the statement said.

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