Google bans personal credit apps from accessing user photos and contacts


Google plans to block apps that offer loans to individuals from accessing sensitive user data, such as photos, videos and contacts, as the Android maker steps up its response to increasing predatory behavior by some lenders who harass borrowers.

The search giant on Wednesday released an update to its personal credit policy for apps on the Play Store to introduce new restrictions prohibiting apps from accessing external storage, photos, videos, contacts, precise location and call logs. The change will take effect on May 31st.

“Apps that offer personal loans or have the primary purpose of facilitating access to personal loans (i.e. lead generators or matchmakers) are not allowed to access sensitive data such as photos and contacts,” the company said in its update.

According to recent reports, an emerging trend has raised concerns as debt collectors have harassed certain individuals who purchased loans through mobile apps. These debt collectors allegedly accessed borrowers’ personal contacts and notified friends and family of outstanding debts. In more extreme cases, agents have used manipulated images to further intimidate and distress those at fault. Tragically, some of these targets succumbed to the pressure and took their own lives.

Such cases have been well reported in markets such as India and Kenya. Google first responded by blocking hundreds and thousands of personal loan apps from the Play Store after being warned by law enforcement and central banks. The company also introduced rules to ban unlicensed credit apps from the Android App Store.

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Google said it also introduced the requirement to create specific licensing documents for apps that appear on the Play Store and offer personal credit in Pakistan to demonstrate “their ability to provide or facilitate” credit. The company also made it mandatory for non-bank financial firms in the country to have just a single digital lending app on the Play Store.

“Developers who attempt to release more than one DLA per NBFC risk termination of their developer account and all other associated accounts,” Google said.

The Android maker has been criticized in the past for not taking strict action against predatory lending apps. In response, the company introduced policy updates in markets such as India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Kenya and the Philippines.