Paytm app briefly pulled from Google Play Store for gambling policy violations

September 18, 2020.

Google yanked the popular Indian mobile payment app from its Google Play Store on Friday for violating its gambling policies with the launch of a new marketing campaign, leading to a war of words between the technology companies before the app was restored hours later.

The app’s removal from the store stemmed from the launch of the Indian fintech’s UPI CashBack campaign, which Google determined had violated its gambling policies in India. Google said that its store tries to be balanced between providing “a safe and secure experience” for users while still allowing developers to build up their businesses, but does not allow online casinos or unregulated gambling apps on the service.

“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,” Google said. “We have these policies to protect users from potential harm.”

Google delisted the Paytm Android app, which was temporarily made unavailable for existing users to download updates or for new users to download at all.

Android has complete control of the operating system market in India, with a market share of more than 95%, according to Statcounter. Android phones typically ship with Google Mobile Services core applications pre-installed, including the Google Play Store.

Paytm’s UPI CashBack campaign tied into the “Paytm Cricket League” in the mobile app, which Paytm said was aimed for “users to engage in their passion of cricket” and receive cash back in the process through the collection of digital player stickers.

After the app was restored, Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma commented on the issue via his Twitter account by posting screenshots of the campaign details and saying, “India, you decide if giving cash back is gambling.”

Madhur Deora, president of Paytm’s owner One97 Communications Pvt., also took umbrage with Google pulling the app, telling Bloomberg that the action by Google was violating competition rules, noting that Paytm is a direct competitor to Google Pay in India’s rapidly growing digital economy.

“You've got a player which regulates India's digital ecosystem, while competing with many companies in the same ecosystem,” Deora said. “They have all the levers and can decide which app can be brought down and when — how is that not a problem?"

However, in order to meet Google’s standards, Paytm ultimately did remove the campaign from its app to get it put back in the Google Play Store.

“While it is clear that all activities on Paytm are completely lawful, we have temporarily removed the cash-back component in an effort to meet the Play Store policy requirements,” Paytm said. “We assure all our users that their balances and linked accounts are 100% safe.”

Google noted that repeat policy violations could lead to more serious sanctions for developers, including the potential termination of Google Play Developer accounts.

“We actively engage with our developer community for feedback while we define and refine our policies,” Google said. “Together, we will continue to create a safe and secure mobile app ecosystem for everyone.”