FCCPC Gets Commendations As Google Moves To Remove Unlicensed Loan Apps From Play Store

By Isaac Asabor

Since Google issued a new policy guideline that will require all loan apps on its Play Store to present their licensing documents for the market they are operating in, not a few informed consumers have applauded the leadership of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) for its resilient efforts to ensure that all unregistered online money lenders who provide short term loans without security at high-interest rates have their apps removed from Google Play Store.

Given the latest development, loan apps in Nigeria must now provide an approval document from the FCCPC or risk being removed from the platform effective from January 31, 2023.

Unambiguously, the new Google policy guidelines outline requirements for loan apps in Nigeria, Kenya, India, the Philippines, and Indonesia. These countries are known to be the operational base of unlicensed loan apps even as Google says the policy applies to apps that offer loans directly and those that connect consumers with third-party lenders.

Explicitly bringing the notice to the Nigerian public, the organisation which is reputed to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, stated that all new and existing apps will receive a grace period of at least 30 days from November 16, 2022, to comply with the changes, while the policy becomes effective January 31, 2023.

Unarguably spelling out its stand on the issue for the sake of clarity, Google said: “Digital Money Lenders (DML) must adhere to and complete the LIMITED INTERIM REGULATORY/ REGISTRATION FRAMEWORK AND GUIDELINES FOR DIGITAL LENDING, 2022 (as may be amended from time to time) by the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) of Nigeria and obtain a verifiable approval letter from the FCCPC.

“You must, upon Google Play’s request, provide additional information or documents relating to your compliance with the applicable regulatory and licensing requirements.”

Ostensibly implying that “Nothing worth having comes easy”, as said by Theodore Roosevelt, not a few Nigerians, who are invariably consumers of various items across markets commented that FCCPC, particularly under the leadership of the commission’s Executive Vice Chairman, Mr. Babatunde Irukera deserves accolades for its contributory efforts for Google’s moves as they unanimously agreed that the commission and its team have been on the trenches since early this year fighting unscrupulous app lenders.

Mr. Godwin Ogiesoba, an Insurer recalled that the leadership of FCCPC sometime in March 2022 ensured that no fewer than 30 bank accounts that were operated by illegal loan organisations were frozen.

He said, “Irukera had engaged Google and Apple Stores to take down some loan applications from their stores”, saying that it was one of the efforts exhibited by him and his team that made Google take its present decision that will go a long way in engendering sanity in the sector.

In fact, being forthright and resilient in its efforts to ensure that the money lending market is sanitised, Mr. Friday Ebosele said, “FCCPC sometime in April early this year went ahead to tackle Google for obstructing its efforts aimed at tracing the owners of illegal online money lending services engaged in consumer rights violations in Nigeria.”

Just as Ebosele said, it can be recalled in this context that Irukera made the allegation at a collaborative engagement with the media in Lagos, and explained that Google was uncooperative in the Commission’s efforts to enforce the withdrawal of applications (Apps) being used by the money lenders from its Play Store, even when evidence of inappropriate use of the Apps has been established.

It can also be recalled that the commission raided the offices of some online loan sharks operating illegally in Lagos earlier in the year, where Irukera disclosed that the commission had secured Court Orders to enforce the withdrawal of the defaulting Apps from Google and Apple platforms.

Irukera at the time said he considers the uncooperative attitude of Google as a potential threat to key national interest and expressed frustration over the inability of the commission in contacting Google while trying to pull out apps from the Google Store.

He stated at the time: “We are trying to close some Apps down from Google and there is some resistance. I got a letter yesterday from someone who is a senior legal officer, Africa & Middle East at Google, and in that letter, there is absolutely no way to contact Google.

“I found that extremely reprehensible and shameful that a company of the size and magnitude of Google is hardly where it can be found, that a regulator is struggling to find Google, and for Google to be able to enforce the order of a regulator in a country where Google is existing and doing business is the height of reckless irresponsibility on the part of a company with a brand and name like Google.

“So, for that letter they’ve written and their own successive barriers to be engaged for enforcement, I need to hold Google responsible.

“No company, no matter what benefit they bring should have that prerogative or opportunity of being that anonymous. “And that is the problem we are dealing with. So, we must hold the big ones who are making a tonne of money from our citizens responsible.

“If we can hold them responsible and they become liable for that kind of conduct, then we can cascade down and we can talk to Instagram that if anyone is going to sell stuff on your platform, there must be certain information that must be available. “You cannot provide those platforms, make your money, and look the other way while people who come on the platforms exploit people and people are stuck.

“There has to be a level ground for everyone. In the absence of that, even your business itself is exploited. If you are not the exploiter, you are at least ceding the platform to exploiters to exploit people.”

He said the commission might need to work with law enforcement agencies in the United States to get them to come up with the information needed to get those behind the illegal digital lenders.

“We have our counterparts there and we will use our counterparts to say to Google that you are not welcome in this country if we cannot find you; that a regulator cannot engage you when your platform is used to exploit people.

“You are absolutely unwelcomed if your platform can be used to exploit the people and the regulator could not prevent that exploitation,” he said.

Sequel to Google’s move to commence removing uncompliant online loan providers, the commission has published the Registration Status for Digital Money lenders/Apps thus:

“Following the receipt and assessment of applications from various digital money lenders pursuant to the published Limited Interim Regulatory/Registration Framework and Guidelines, 2022, the Commission has granted approvals/ conditional approvals to the following: Full Approval, Sycamore Integrated Solutions Limited, Trade Depot, Tajow Investment, Blue Ridge Microfinance Bank Limited, Grolatech Credit Limited, Branch International Financial Services Limited, P2vest Technology Limited and Creditwave Finance Limited.”

Lenders that secured Conditional Approval cut across Trippdbase Limited, Blackcopper Service, Owoafar Fintech Service, Paylater Hub, and Swipebill Technologies Nigeria Limited. Others are Windville Financial Nigeria Limited. Afrofirst Mobile And Technology Company Limited, Orcom And Orcom Business Support Limited. Otp Internet Technology Ltd. Red Harbor Fintech Limited, Beryl Spring Global Limited, and Hometown Fintech Limited.