Google has banned the Parler and Gab apps, even though they never violated any laws. However, law enforcement officials in India are accusing Google of hosting dozens of illegal predatory lending apps that openly violate Google’s own stated policies.
In the recent past, over 750 lending apps have been added to the Google Play store in India. Google states that they will not host any lending app that requires full payment in less than 60 days. However, many of these apps require payment in as little as one or two weeks. These apps also violate Indian laws on lending, and in some cases laws on privacy and harassment.
A very large percentage, between 60-70%, of the apps are operated by Chinese nationals. There is now a major criminal investigation against over two dozen lending apps with connections to China. In the past six weeks, India has also raided multiple call centers that were being used to wage harassment campaigns. At least thirty-one people have been arrested, including four Chinese nationals, in connection to the apps. The government is also telling various payment gateways to cease working with these apps.
In the past year, these apps have handled the equivalent of billions of US dollars in transactions. One Chinese national alone is accused of handling $2 Billion USD worth of transactions through four different apps.
KVM Prasad is the assistant commissioner of police for cyber crime for the Hyderabad police department. He says the creators of these apps engage in very targeted and sophisticated harassment. The apps even collect information on the user’s location using the cellphone’s GPS. Victims are sent fake police reports and court papers. Sometimes a victim’s phone will ring a hundred times in a row. Some will contact family members of the victim and harass them.
Indian officials have been complaining that Google hosts illegal lending apps since at least last April. Srikanth Lakshmanan, a consumer advocate with Cashless Consumer, says his group provided Google a list of loan shark apps, that had no registered entity and fake addresses, last November.
In December, Google deleted one app. This was only because a man filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Google over the app and a woman attempted suicide when a telemarketer for the app demanded nude videos.
According to consumer advocate, Anil Rachamalla, at least eleven people have committed suicide who were being harassed by these apps.
Google only began taking action around the beginning of this year, at least eight months after government officials began complaining . On January 14th, Suzanne Frey, Vice President of Android Security and Privacy announced that four loan shark apps had been removed. She cited complaints from users and government agencies. Even then, one of these four apps was immediately allowed back on the app store after they discontinued a 30 day loan option. Consumer advocates in India say it barely matters if Google bans the apps now, because they allowed it to go on for so long most of the damage has already been done.
Law enforcement officials in Indian cite Google’s App Store, Google Play, as the key element that has made this criminal enterprise possible. Critics of Google say that the company bans apps for purely political reasons, while completely failing to abide by its own policies and police apps for loan sharking, prostitution, and narcotics sales.