Google banned more than 2,000 instant loan apps from the Play Store in the first half of 2022

Google banned more than 2,000 apps offering instant loan services to customers between January and June this year, in light of the apps violating the company’s Play Store policies. Speaking at a roundtable on Thursday, Saikat Mitra, senior director and head of trust and safety at Google Asia-Pacific, said the company’s bans were put in place after a combination of breaches. policy, user reporting, and working with various law enforcement agencies and political bodies.

“The prohibitions we apply include assessing data we collect ourselves – as well as what we gather from offline third-party sources,” Mitra said. This information, he added, could include details such as acts of harassment of customers over the phone. made by these instant loan service providers.

Apps that have been banned include services that specifically catered to the Indian market itself. However, there was no particular focus on cracking down on China-related apps.

“As for the policies we apply on the Play Store for instant loan apps, the policy requirements are in accordance with Indian regulations. We do not apply our own regulations in this sector,” Mitra said.

Google’s update on the matter comes after numerous complaints about instant loan apps with fraudulent practices spammed Indian users. After an increasing number of consumer complaints started to surface regarding instant loan apps on mobile app stores, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) took notice of the matter and issued an advisory in December 2020 against using unauthorized instant loan apps.

On August 11, the RBI issued a new set of guidelines for digital loan companies to follow, including disclosure of all hidden costs, no third-party involvement in installment receipt bank transfers, or payments to user accounts, etc.

Unregulated instant loan services have typically targeted people from low-income groups without a clear understanding of the loan process, who were looking for quick access to funds. While these instant loan apps offered low-cost loans between 2,000 and 10,000, they were charging interest rates of up to 50% per annum, along with similar late fees.

Additionally, these apps would have access to a customer’s full list of contacts. Failure to repay these loans would lead to these companies not only charging the aforementioned exorbitant interest and penalties, but also contacting the family and peers of their defaulting customers, and subsequently harassing them with abusive messages.

Following user complaints, the Directorate of Law Enforcement (ED), a law enforcement agency under the Union Government’s Department of Finance, has also started cracking down on these apps. Earlier this month, on August 4, the ED announced that it had frozen and tied total financial assets worth 264 crore – owned by companies that operated instant loan services in India. These services were also reputed to have had ties to China and operated under the guise of partnerships with Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) in the country.

The ED is also investigating India’s cryptocurrency exchanges for facilitating the way for these services to launder money away from Indian shores.

Google, for its part, banned 30 instant loan apps from its Play Store, the app marketplace on Android devices, in India in January last year. Google’s removal came a month after the RBI’s initial notice against digital lending services. Since then, numerous state and national government bodies have filed notices urging Google to ban digital lending services from its Indian app store.

The most recent of these cases took place on June 6, when Maharashtra Cyber, the state government’s nodal cybersecurity agency, asked Google to ban 69 instant loan apps following reports of harassment from consumers and non-compliance with Indian laws. It’s unclear whether Google acted on the bans – or whether it was part of the roughly 2,000 instant loan apps the company claims to have banned in India.

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