India’s dominant digital payment app PayTM suddenly dropped from the Google Play Store and reappeared last Friday. However, Google has not restored its imaginative cricket app PayTM First Games for violation of its gambling policy. Now India’s most acclaimed start-up is getting backing from its rivals like PhonePe in this battle.
PhonePe, which is based on India’s unified payment interface (UPI), went live in 2016 and currently has more than 210 million users who can access its services in 10 Indian languages in addition to English. The company believes India needs to give its anti-competition laws more teeth so that natural monopolies take notice of the issues and respond within a certain timeframe.
A good fight to fight
When you reach a 95% monopoly position, the question to be asked is to engage in the market you play in, said Sameer Nigam, co-founder and CEO of PhonePe. “I think this is where our laws fall short, our CCI (the Competition Commission of India) fall short.”
A report published in the Economic times quotes Nigam as saying he had not yet spoken to PayTM founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma, although the answer was not to organize a fight, but to work together to create an alternative to Google in India. “We have really good ones, like the Indus OS in India’s MapmyIndia app, but how can we shape it as an ecosystem,” he says.
Removing the fantasy games app just before India became addicted to its annual cricket jamboree, the IPL, Google claimed that its policy did not allow online casinos or support unregulated gambling apps that enable sports betting, including fantasy sports in India.
Where is the clarity about policy?
Nigam questions this policy, claiming that the Supreme Court had already defined games as by skill and not by fortune. “We have no idea to date why India doesn’t allow fantasy games, poker or Rummy, as the Supreme Court has ruled that these are skill-based games, which is frustrating as an ecosystem.”
PayTM outright accused Google of “arm-twisting” to get its cash-back scheme off the store, although Google Pay had a similar one. “We claim our money back campaign was within guidelines as well as all laws in the country. We did not break any rules and there was no violation. It is in no way related to gambling, ”said PayTM blog post.
Given the confusion, PhonePe’s Nigam says, while monopolies are a natural outcome of a great idea, the challenge at Google is that every time an app is removed, developers are looking for a hearing that appears to be going down a sinkhole. “We’ve had one from Apple in the past and we got a response from their policy team within 48 hours,” said Nigam, who says Google needs to learn here.
But the question is, do they really care? Android accounts for over 95% of the Indian smartphone market through its associations with various phone manufacturers. So it’s a good fight to fight, says Nigam.