Updated at 13:30 GMT / 07:00 PM IST: The Paytm app is back on the Google Play Store. Our original story follows.
Google has pulled the popular Indian financial services app Paytm from the Play Store for violating its gambling policies. Paytm is India’s most valuable startup and claims over 50 million monthly active users. Its marquee app, which competes with Google Pay in India, disappeared from the Play Store in the country earlier Friday.
Google said that Play Store prohibits online casinos and other unregulated gambling apps that facilitate sports betting in India. Paytm, which has promoted a fantasy sports service within its marquee app, repeatedly violated Play Store’s policies, two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. Paytm’s fantasy sports service, called Paytm First Games, was also available as a standalone app, which has been pulled from the Play Store, too.
The Android-maker, which maintains similar guidelines around gambling in most other markets, additionally noted that 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 will also be deemed in violation of its Play Store policies.
In an email Google sent to many firms in India, and reviewed by TechCrunch, the company asked developers to pause all advertising campaigns in their apps to drive users to websites that offer installation files of sports betting apps.
Google’s Pay app currently dominates the payments market in India, and Android commands about 99% of the smartphone market share in the country.
The announcement today from Google is also a preemptive attempt from the company to remind other developers about its gambling policies ahead of the popular cricket tournament Indian Premier League, which is scheduled to kick off tomorrow.
Previous seasons of IPL, which last for nearly two months and attract the attention of hundreds of millions of Indians, have seen a surge in apps that look to promote or participate in sports betting.
While sports betting is banned in India, fantasy sports, where users select their favorite players and win if their preferred teams or players play well, is not illegal in most Indian states.
A person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that Google has also asked Disney+ Hotstar, one of the most popular on-demand video streaming services in India, to display a warning before running ads about fantasy sports apps.
“We have these policies to protect users from potential harm. When an app violates these policies, we notify the developer of the violation and remove the app from Google Play until the developer brings the app into compliance,” wrote Suzanne Frey, vice president, Product, Android Security and Privacy, in a blog post.
“And in the case where there are 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,” she added.
In a televised interview with CNBC TV18, Paytm co-founder and chief executive Vijay Shekhar Sharma accused Google of not allowing Paytm to acquire new users.
He acknowledged that Google had reached out to Paytm before and raised concerns about Paytm First Games, but the incident with Paytm’s main app, he said, is over “nothing but” paying cash back to customers.
The cashbacks were issued in ways of cricket-themed scratch cards, he said, adding that if Paytm isn’t allowed to issue cashback to customers, the same rule should be applied to every player. Google Pay, as well as Walmart’s PhonePe, give customers similar incentives in India.
“This is the problem of India’s app ecosystem. So many founders have reached out to us… if we believe this country can build digital business, we must know that it is at somebody else’s hand to bless that business and not this country’s rules and regulations,” he said.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Madhur Deora, president of Paytm, said Google did not raise any issue about Paytm First Games app today. He said Paytm had rolled out the cricket-themed sticker for cashbacks early Friday. Hours later Google raised objection about it and suspended the app. He said the company had pulled the new feature and submitted the revised version of the app to the Google Play Store.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), an “industry body” that represents some fantasy sports firms, claims it complained to Google to take action on companies that distribute or promote fantasy sports through Play Store.
Dream Sports, the parent firm of India’s most popular fantasy sports app Dream 11, is the founding member of FIFS. Dream11 app is not available on the Play Store. In a message to its members, obtained by TechCrunch, FIFS said the following:
“We are here to protect all our members no matter their business size and treat all members/non-members the same. This is not the first time, but a regular practice within FIFS, to report and raise concerns on behalf of its members,” a FIFS spokesperson told TechCrunch in a statement Friday evening local time.
“In the past, FanCode and SportsTiger, sister brands of Dream11 & MyTeam11 respectively, were removed from the Google Play Store for violation of Google Play Store’s policy as they were promoting their Fantasy Sports Apps. As Paytm’s Play Store App was able to promote Paytm First Games, and other Times Internet Apps were allowed to promote MPL, FIFS had only sought clarity from Google to ensure a level playing field by allowing all Fantasy Sports Apps to be promoted by their Play Store Apps. FIFS would like to place on record that we never asked or wished for any company, such as MPL or Paytm, to have any negative repercussions whatsoever,” it added.