Google took Paytm off its Play Store for several hours on Friday — and restored it after the payments and financial services platform had been forced to take “corrective measures” to meet the policy requirements of the Android app marketplace.
Google said Paytm had violated its gambling policies. The developments came a day before the start of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which is known to spike interest in so-called ‘fantasy sports’ — Internet-based games where users win rewards for creating virtual teams based on the performance of their actual counterparts.
Paytm had on Friday announced the fantasy “Paytm Cricket League”, in which users could win cash rewards based on the actual performance of cricketers in the IPL. This was on the lines of the fantasy sports platform Dream11 — also IPL’s title sponsor — and in contravention of Play Store policies.
Paytm was restored on Play Store after it removed the “cashback component” on the Paytm Cricket League. According to Google, 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 its policies.
Under Paytm’s offer, users would receive virtual stickers depicting cricketers playing in the IPL upon adding a minimum of
Rs 500 in their Paytm wallet. The users could then enter these players in a virtual team — and earn points based on how those players performed in actual matches.
At the end of the tournament, the top 1 lakh participants — ranked on the basis of cumulative points earned — would receive a scratch card, which would enable them to win up to Rs 1 lakh.
Bombay High Court had ruled last year that Dream11 was “undoubtedly a game of skill and not a game of chance” and that it did not amount to gambling. However, given Google’s policy to not allow such apps, Dream11 is not available on Play Store. Google does allow other fantasy sports apps such as the English Premier League, which has a similar component for football teams but does not have cash rewards.
In a blog post published on Friday, Suzanne Frey, vice president, Product, Android Security and Privacy, said: “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.
“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. 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.”
During the day, after its app was removed from Play Store, Paytm had said in a statement: “Today afternoon, we received communication from Google that they are suspending our app because they believe this to be a violation of their Play Store policies on gambling. The Paytm Android app has thus been unlisted from Google’s Play Store and is temporarily unavailable to users for new downloads or updates. While it is clear that all activities on Paytm are completely lawful, we have temporarily removed the cashback component in an effort to meet the Play Store policy requirements.”
In the evening, after the app had been restored on Google, Paytm’s chief executive officer Vijay Shekhar Sharma tweeted: “We launched a UPI CashBack campaign this morning. Our app got suspended by Google for this. India, you decide if giving cash back is gambling.”
Paytm competes with Google Pay in India’s digital payments space. Officials at the Noida-based company told The Indian Express on Friday that Google Pay too, offers cashback promotions on the app. However, Google had taken issue with Paytm allowing participants in its offer to earn cash on the basis of the performance of players selected by them in an actual IPL match.
According to the Paytm officials, the company had been pulled up by Google earlier over its gaming platform Paytm First Games, in which users won cash prizes for playing games such as fantasy cricket, rummy, and ludo. Paytm First Games too, was removed from Play Store, and has not been restored yet.
In response to a questionnaire, a spokesperson for Google pointed The Indian Express to the blog post on the gambling policies of Play Store in India.
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