Google India removed the Paytm app from the Android Play Store for several hours on Friday, accusing it of violating its policies on gambling before restoring it later in the day after India’s largest startup complied with the tech giant’s rules.
Google objected to Paytm’s integration of real-money gaming apps or websites into its main payments app, a person familiar with the development said.
With the IPL season round the corner, Google India through a blogpost on Friday reiterated its guidelines on gambling for app developers. Paytm’s fantasy sports app, Paytm First Games, was also pulled from the Android Play Store.
“We don’t allow online casinos or support any unregulated gambling apps that facilitate sports betting. This includes if an app leads consumers to an external website that allows them to participate in paid tournaments to win real money or cash prizes, it is a violation of our policies,” the Google blog post said.
With close to 100 million downloads, Paytm’s removal can have a serious impact on the digital ecosystem. Paytm also competes with Google Pay in the digital payments market in India.
A Paytm spokesperson said that it received an email from Google about the suspension on Friday without any prior warning. According to SoftBank-backed Paytm, Google took this action because of Paytm’s two new cashback schemes that allowed users to earn scratch cards on its platform during IPL.
The spokesperson claimed that the removal violated competition rules, given that Google Pay competes directly with the company.
“This is a fairly aggressive move by Google. The question is that should Google have the ‘powers’ to call an initiative (around payments) as gambling; especially when they have a commercial interest in the ecosystem, with this amount of power. Clearly, this move shows that they are a ‘regulator’ of India’s digital ecosystem and can suspend any app, which is not a good place for India’s digital players,” the spokesperson said.
According to Paytm, Google did send Paytm a written communication two weeks back, regarding its First Games app. It denied that the matter was linked to the ban of the Paytm app from the Play Store.
The ban on Paytm First Games may have been because of the efforts of Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), which said Google was favouring certain fantasy gaming apps, hinting at Paytm First Games, said a second person who didn’t wish to be named.
“We observed that Google has been using its policies and regulations selectively allowing a few large companies to distribute and list their respective real-money gaming apps on the Play Store, without any hindrance,” according to the letter sent to FIFS members.
Most popular online gaming platforms, including Dream 11, WinZO and Mobile Premier League (MPL), which allow users to pay and then reward them with cash prizes, are not listed or were taken down from the Play Store. MPL was launched on Play Store in October 2018 and was taken down in May 2019.