Late last week, drama ensued. On Friday around noon, suddenly, the very popular digital payments platform, Paytm disappeared from the Google Play Store for Android phones, at least in India. Not that it meant that existing Paytm users couldn’t use the app anymore (because they could) and neither did it mean that transactions stopped (because they didn’t). All it meant was that you couldn’t update the Paytm app or you couldn’t download it again (but who doesn’t have Paytm on their phone already?). But it did point at something which was worrying on a larger scale. What was wrong with the Paytm app that warranted such a move by Google? Both companies have their own side of the story to share. It turns out Google classified some cashback and scratch card offers that Paytm was offering users ahead of the much awaited IPL 2020 T20 cricket season, as gambling and sports betting. But it clearly isn’t as black and white as it is being made out to be.
In a statement shared with News18 this morning, Google India says, “Offering cashbacks and vouchers alone do not constitute a violation of our Google Play gambling policies. Last week we reiterated our Play Store gambling policies. Our policies don’t allow online casinos or support any unregulated gambling apps that facilitate sports betting, including daily fantasy sports in India.” Google India confirms that the policies are enforced to ensure a safe and secure experience for consumers. “In the case of repeated policy violations, we may take more serious action which may include terminating Google Play Developer accounts. Our policies are applied and enforced on all developers consistently,” they add.
Paytm says that the first communication they received from Google stated that the Paytm app was being delisted from the Play Store in India. The apparent issues that were highlighted included UPI cashbacks and the scratch card campaign that Paytm was running at the time, ahead of the start of the IPL 2020 T20 cricket extravaganza. Paytm confirms that Google did not give them a chance to respond, as is usually the norm. “This was the first time that Google was sending us a notification regarding our UPI cashback & scratch cards campaign. Contrary to accepted practice, we were not given any opportunity to respond to their concerns or put forth our views,” says Paytm in an official statement. They also add, “We maintain that our cashback campaign was within guidelines, as well as all laws of the land. We did not break any rules and there was no violation. It is not related to gambling in any manner whatsoever.”
A quick glance through the global Google Play Store policies, specifically tackling what it calls “Ads for Gambling or Real-Money Games, Contests, and Tournaments within Play-distributed Apps”, the company states that advertising gambling, real-money games, contests and tournaments are allowed if the local laws of the location allow it. Also, the ads must not be displayed to users below the age of 18 years and the app must also not be enrolled for the Designed for Families program. At this time, it isn’t clear if Paytm has enrolled for this program.
A quick surf through the Google Play Store listings in India seem to tell their own tale of confusion. A simple search for “fantasy cricket” on the Play Store for Android phones lists apps including Fantasy Cricket, CricPlay - India's first Free Fantasy Cricket Game, Team11Fantasy - Free Fantasy Cricket and more. Even if these apps aren't always enabling transactions or fantasy league gameplay, they are surely advertising such activities. Interesting to note though that Dream11, which is the title sponsor for this year’s IPL 2020 tournament and Mobile Premier League, or MPL which is the principal sponsor for the Kolkata Night Riders have Android apps, but they offer direct links to download and complete steps on how to sideload apps on Android devices—and not via the official Google Play Store.
You may not exactly be surprised to know that Google Pay in India was also attempting to cash in on the excitement ahead of the return of cricket, with the IPL 2020. Google Pay was running its own “Tez Shots” campaign with rewards of up to Rs 1 lakh—and they would earn rewards based on scores for different services they use on Google Pay. Google Pay rivals Paytm in the digital payments space in India. It is not clear if Google has a different set of policy guidelines for its own apps, or whether Google has different filters in place for age demographic and location regarding content that is shown to users on its apps.
Paytm also points out that Google India has raised an issue of breach of policy in the past as well when Paytm advertised its own subsidiary, Paytm Games, on the app. Yet, Google India did not have any problem when Paytm Games was advertised using paid promotions on the YouTube platform.
In June, research and strategy firm Zinnov had released data which suggested that Paytm has 39 million daily active users (DAU) in the country, while Google Pay logs in with around 19 million DAU.