Free Fire India Ban: Singapore raises concerns about Sea’s Game ban

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Singapore has raised concerns with India over its ban on popular gaming app Free Fire, owned by tech giant Sea, in the first sign of diplomatic intervention after the move spooked investors, four sources told Reuters.

After the ban, the New York-listed Southeast Asian company’s market value fell by US$16 billion (about Rs.1,21,210 crore) in a single day, and investors fear India will extend it to Sea’s e-commerce app Shopee could. which recently launched in the country.

The sources, which include two Indian government officials, said Singapore has asked Indian authorities why the app has been targeted amid a growing crackdown on Chinese apps, even though Sea is headquartered in the wealthy city-state.

Singapore asked if the app was “unintentionally banned,” said one of the Indian officials, aware of the diplomatic initiative.

The concerns raised at India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been relayed to the Information Technology (IT) Department, which ordered the ban, the two Indian sources said.

The sources, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the discussions, said they didn’t know how and if the Indian government planned to respond to Singapore’s concerns.

Singapore and Sea government spokespersons did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment. India’s IT department, its foreign ministry and the office of the government’s main spokesman also did not respond.

India blocked Free Fire this month among a group of 54 apps it believes are sending user data to servers in China, government sources told Reuters.

China expressed serious concern and said it hopes India will not discriminate against all foreign investors.

In response to the ban, Sea told Reuters at the time, “We do not transfer or store any of our Indian users’ data in China,” adding that it is a Singapore-based company that complies with Indian law.

India’s initial ban on 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, followed a border standoff with China in 2020 and was expanded this month to a total of 321, including Free Fire.

key market

India is the top market for both Free Fire and one of its premium versions, Free Fire MAX, in terms of number of downloads, data from analytics firm SensorTower shows. But India accounted for just 2.6 percent of Sea’s net mobile games revenue in 2021.

Sea was caught off guard by India’s ban, sources said.

Alphabet’s Google informed Sea and other companies of India’s ban, prompting the Singapore firm to ask the US search giant why its app was removed from the Play Store in India, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said.

In response, Google told Sea it was following the Indian government’s guidance and could no longer disclose, the person added. Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Sea has also sent a letter to the Indian Ministry of Technology to seek clarification. Two people briefed on the letter said it described the company as a “Singaporean” firm that had no data parked in China.

Sea was founded in Singapore in 2009 as the game publisher Garena and its founders are Chinese-born Singaporeans.

The premium version of the game, Free Fire MAX, is now the most downloaded mobile game in India and is still available on Google’s India Play Store.

© Thomson Reuters 2022


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