Google has removed the listings of the top app download / discovery apps from the Google Play Store over the last month. These apps include MCent, Taskbucks, Ladoo, Earn Talktime, and Pokkt.
If you see the charts below, according to App Annie, all 5 of these apps have gone from being ranked in the top 200 apps in India, to not showing up at all (where the lines abruptly stop). MCent, by Jana, has raised nearly $100 million to date, and so its removal is a major blow to the company aiming to bring low-cost internet to developing countries.
According to industry sources, these apps are very popular amongst digital businesses as a way to acquire new customers, and Google has ramped up its efforts to drive its app downloads advertising business. These businesses directly compete with Google in driving app downloads, by offering the consumer incentives via recharges for doing different activities, like downloading, reading, or using an app. "These apps are like lubricants, they give customers a reason to try out your app. And if they like it, some of them stay and become regular users."
Interestingly, these apps were most recently in the news, as part of a TRAI consultation paper around Free Data. The TRAI paper notes,
"12. One model could be to provide Reward-to consumers through a TSP agnostic platform when they download certain application or have some activity on a particular website. In this reward based model apps may provide rewards in the form of a recharge for data usage or for voice usage to the users. There are some examples of reward based models in India, most notably: (1) Discovery Apps dedicated to providing rewards in return for engagement; such as mCent, Gigato, Taskbucks, Ladoo, EarnTalktime, Pokkt and many more."
One has to wonder whether Google's decision to remove these apps is anti-competitive. Google's ownership of Google Play Store makes it the gatekeeper of nearly all app downloads in India, and in doing so, can they choose to remove apps that compete with them? "Imagine if Google decided to remove competitors from Google Search results... this isn't that different," said another industry source, who didn't want to be named.