In a blog titled “The story behind Paytm App’s de-listing from Google Play Store”, the financial services app Paytm has hit back at Google saying suddenly UPI cashback is called an “online casino”.
The full blog by Paytm:
On Friday, 18 September 2020, India’s most preferred payments and financial services app – Paytm was temporarily removed from the Google Play Store. We were forced to comply with Google’s mandate of removing our UPI cashback offer and scratch cards to get re-listed.
We want to share with you a sequence of events as they unfolded.
(This will be familiar to all Indian internet companies since they face similar arm-twisting and fear of Google’s dominance over India’s digital ecosystem every day.)
Quick segue to some background — Google owns Android which is the operating system on which over 95% of smartphones in India run. Google, as a result, has enormous control over which apps you download through its Play Store policies. It also makes billions of dollars in advertising revenues from the Indian startups that make these apps. In many cases like maps, email, payments, shopping, cloud storage, etc, Google also has apps that compete with other apps, including, of course, the apps that are made by Indian startups.
Back to the events of last week:
Launch of UPI cashback campaign on our app called ‘Paytm Cricket League’
In the evening of September 11, we launched a campaign where users could collect cricket stickers & scratch cards to earn UPI cashback. This offer was applicable on recharges, utility payments, UPI money transfers and adding money to Paytm wallet.
Following is the workflow of this campaign -
1. Users collect cricket based stickers by doing payment transactions like recharges, money transfers, bill payments etc.
2. Upon collection of a certain number of stickers, users could win sweepstake cashback.
3. Users can gift and receive stickers to their friends.
Google de-listed Paytm app without an opportunity to respond
On September 18 at 11:30AM, we received an email from Google Play Support informing that the Paytm Android app had been delisted. Their email stated:
“Your app contains content that doesn’t comply with the Gambling policy as it offers games with “loyalty” (e.g. engagement or activity) points that (1) are accrued or accelerated via real-money purchases which (2) can be exchanged for items or prizes of real-world monetary value.”
The email also shared the following screenshots with concerns highlighted:
This was the first time that Google was sending us a notification regarding our UPI cashback & scratch cards campaign. Contrary to accepted practise, we were not given any opportunity to respond to their concerns or put forth our views.
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.
Similar cashback being offered by Google Pay
We would now like to highlight how Google’s own payment app, Google Pay regularly runs similar campaigns in India.
At the beginning of this Cricket Season itself, Google Pay has started its ‘Tez Shots’ campaign which clearly says, “Score Runs to earn assured rewards worth up to Rs 1. lakh.” According to the steps of the game, a user can play as many times as they want. They earn vouchers that they can unlock at each milestone. Finally, they qualify for a lucky draw through which they get assured tickets up to Rs 1 lakh with any qualifying payment.
For different scores starting from 50 to all the way to 1000 plus they also earn rewards and discounts on different services that they avail via the Google Pay app.
Presumably, such cashback campaigns of Google Pay are not in breach of Play Store policies, or maybe they are, but a different set of rules apply to Google’s own apps.
There are some questions about whether there were previous “policy violations” and communications from Google
The Google Play Support team had written to us on 3 occasions (on August 20th, August 28th and September 1st) with some concerns on a separate matter of Paytm First Games’ promotion through the Paytm app. While we strenuously disagreed with the allegation that we are breaching the policy (and we disagree with the policy itself too), we immediately complied with the diktat that barred us from promoting our gaming subsidiary.
We wish to make it clear that driving traffic or promoting fantasy sports is not gambling!
Conveniently, Paytm First Games can do a paid promotion on YouTube (which is owned by Google), but it is not allowed to do the same advertisement on the Paytm app, as per Google Policy.
We have been prompt and responsible in solving Google’s concerns and comply with their directions. Google’s recent action on de-listing Paytm app because of a cashback campaign is unjustified. We reiterate that our cashback campaign was within guidelines, and there was no violation.
We are thankful to our users for their unwavering support to us. As a pioneer of the digital payments ecosystem in the country, we will continue with our efforts to present what is right with conviction and strength.
PS: There is a bigger question here that the Indian startup ecosystem and developers should think about. As a startup, we are running law-abiding businesses and building for India. Google and its employees are making policies which are over and above the laws of our country, and are arbitrarily implementing them.