Google has categorically dismissed all the privacy concerns users shared with the company's Tez payments app, noting in particular that it is not storing any users' Aadhaar information.
Ahead of the Google Tez launch conference on Monday, the digital payments app became available to download via Google Play and the App Store in India. Since then, a reference to Aadhaar in the Google Tez app's terms of service started circulating on social media.
In the terms of service of Tez app, Google noted that any user who receives money on Tez app gives the company consent to allow the sender to store a host of information including bank account number and Aadhaar number for the purpose of sending the payments.
In a televised interview with NDTV's Vikram Chandra on Monday, Google's Caesar Sengupta clarified that neither Google nor any user can store the Aadhaar information. He said the company made reference of Aadhaar in the terms of service as that feature could be added in the future. But as of today, it's not there.
"There is a feature called PayByAadhaar in UPI. What it does is, if you know somebody's Aadhaar number, you can send them money," Sengupta explained. "This is an optional feature in UPI and there is a huge lack of clarity around legal and regulatory frameworks on how to use it. So we choose not to use it. Right now we don't take Aadhaar number, we don't store it, we don't do anything with it."
Google is at present trying to get clarity on how the frameworks on how to use PayByAadhaar. If it is satisfied and thinks that it adds user value, it may introduce it in the future. If it does introduce PayByAadhaar, which could be made mandatory by NPCI in the future, it will inform the customers about it.
The company has also since updated the terms of service for Tez, to remove reference to Aadhaar. There, the company says, "Tez does not support the Pay to Aadhaar feature, though it may do so in the future with notice to you and in accordance with applicable laws."
UPI uses virtual payment address (VPA), which is a much simpler identification number to quickly allow a customer to send money to one another. So for instance, instead of a 12-digit bank account of a user, a person will only have to remember the short VPA address which could look like apple@okicici, for instance. Users can also pick their own custom VPAs. If you have accounts with multiple banks, you will have multiple VPAs.
Google Tez doesn't offer the ability to create a custom virtual payment address, and the limitation surprised many. Diana Layfield, VP of Google's Next Billion Users, said the app doesn't offer the ability to allow VPAs because only banks have been offered that functionality.
Some users also expressed concerned when they found that Tez app required access to microphone. At the press conference, Sengupta said microphone is being used to enable Cash Mode feature, which allows customers to send money to people around them without even knowing their phone number or any other details.
Cash Mode uses Audio QR (AQR), a proprietary technology Google has built, which uses ultrasonic sound waves to communicate. So that's why Tez asks for access to microphone, Sengupta said.