Singapore discusses with India and seeks clarification

SINGAPORE/NEW DELHI : Singapore has raised concerns with India over its ban on popular gaming app ‘Free Fire’, owned by tech group Sea Ltd, 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 plummeted by $16 billion in a single day, and investors fear India could extend it to the app Sea’s e-commerce platform, Shopee, which was recently launched in the country.

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

Singapore had asked if the app “was banned non-internationally”, said one of the Indian officials familiar with the diplomatic initiative.

The concerns, raised with India’s Foreign Ministry, were passed on to the Information Technology (IT) Department which ordered the ban, the two Indian sources said.

The sources, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the talks, said they were unsure how and whether the Indian government planned to address Singapore’s concerns.

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

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

China responded by expressing serious concerns and saying it hoped India would treat all foreign investors in a non-discriminatory manner.

In its response to the ban, Sea told Reuters at the time: “We do not transfer or store any data of our Indian users in China,” adding that it was a Singaporean company that respected the Indian law.

India’s initial ban on 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, came after a border clash 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 Free Fire and one of its most premium versions, Free Fire MAX, based on the number of downloads, according to data from analytics firm SensorTower. But India only accounted for 2.6% of Sea’s net mobile game sales in 2021.

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

Alphabet Inc’s Google notified Sea and other companies of India’s ban, prompting the Singaporean company to ask the US search giant why its app had been removed from India’s Play Store, it said. said a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

In response, Google told Sea it was following orders from the Indian government and could not disclose more, the person added. Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Sea also sent a letter to the Indian Ministry of Technology asking for clarification. Two people briefed on the letter said it described the company as a “Singaporean” company that does not store data in China.

Sea was founded in Singapore in 2009 as a game publisher Garena and its founders are Singaporean citizens of Chinese descent.

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

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Lance B. Holton