Opera Accused of Operating Predatory Loan Apps on Android

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Anyone who was browsing the web in the early 2000s probably has some experience with Opera. In those days, Opera made a great alternative to Internet Explorer, but today it has a different business model. According to a new report, Opera has launched several shady loan apps in the Play Store that violate Google’s policies by charging exorbitant interest rates for very short-term loans. 

According to financial firm Hindenburg Research, Opera has launched at least four payment apps under various developer accounts. There’s Okash and OPesa in Kenya, CashBean in India, and OPay in Nigeria. On the surface, these apps appear to comply with Google’s rules for financial services. The Android maker instituted some modest rules to prevent predatory loan apps from charging multi-hundred percent interest rates. 

Upon investigating these apps (one of which has already been booted from the store), Hindenburg Research determined the loan products offered to customers were much different than the app descriptions would lead you to believe. The repayment periods could go as low as 14 days with annual percentage rates (APR) that reach as high as 876 percent. Google says loans have to be 60 days or longer, and it limits APR to 36 percent (in the US).

Hindenburg Research confirmed the details of the loans by posing as potential customers and reaching out to customer service. There are also ample public reviews in the Play Store backing up the claims. However, Opera says the report contains “numerous errors” and notes that Hindenburg Research is shorting Opera stock. However, it doesn’t really deny the substance of the report.

So, how did Opera get here? Two decades ago, Opera made money by offering an ad-supported version of its browser for free. If you wanted to remove the ads, you’d need to purchase a license. As it became impossible to sell browsers to consumers, Opera transitioned to search provider partnerships and other ad mechanisms. 

The explosion of mobile internet-connected devices in the late 2000s gave Opera a new revenue stream, but Opera’s highly optimized browser became less necessary as smartphones and mobile data became faster. With Opera’s market share shrinking, the original owners sold the company to a Chinese consortium in 2016. Since then, Opera has branched out into new businesses and gone public, earning $ 115 million in its initial public offering. It looks like the new owners are doing everything possible to prop the company up. Regardless of Hindenburg’s motives, the evidence points to Opera engaging in some extremely disreputable activities.

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