ISLAMABAD: Google has restricted personal loan apps from accessing contacts or photos of their users in Pakistan.

In its April 2023 policy update, the platform mandated the apps in Pakistan to submit country-specific licensing documents to prove their ability to provide personal loans.

Google said it was updating the “Personal Loans Policy” to stop the apps from accessing users’ contacts or photos. “We are introducing additional requirements for personal loan apps targeting users in Pakistan,” Google said in a statement.

Pakistan is the sixth country after India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Nigeria and Kenya, for which Google has introduced additional requirements for digital lending apps.

Pakistan has been included in the policy update by Google after a series of meetings with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) — the regulator of the corporate sector.

The SECP has received several complaints against registered as well as non-registered lending apps, indulging in exploitative and coercive practices, including blackmailing their customers. The SECP has also taken steps against non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) that have launched their digital apps, restricting each NBFC to publish only one lending app.

Responding to the query over the steps taken by the SECP against illegal and unregistered lending apps, a senior commission official said three lenders have already furnished their Cyber Security Audit Reports, along with certificates issued by PTA-approved audit firms, signifying their commitment to safeguarding customer’s data.

The official added that apart from the policy framework, consultations have been held with Google, Apple, mobile wallet and telecom service providers to take down apps operating from outside Pakistan.

Digital lending platforms have witnessed a spurt of growth in recent years. Currently, there are around 10 licensed NBFCs and only three digital lending apps, while around 30-40 unlicensed apps are operating from outside Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2023

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