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India blocks Krafton game under law it has used to ban China apps: source

India blocks Krafton game under law it has used to ban China apps: source
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A Google sign is displayed outside the Google office in Berlin, Germany, August 31, 2021. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse/File photo

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NEW DELHI, July 29 (Reuters) – India has blocked a popular battle royale game from Krafton Inc. (259960.KS)a South Korean company backed by China’s Tencent (0700.HK)using a law it has invoked since 2020 to ban Chinese apps on national security grounds, a source said.

Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) was delisted from Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL.O) Google Play Store and Apple Inc. (AAPL.O) App Store starting Thursday night in India.

The removal of BGMI, which had over 100 million users in India, comes after India’s 2020 ban on another Krafton title, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG).

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The PUBG crackdown was part of New Delhi’s ban on more than 100 mobile apps of Chinese origin, following a months-long border standoff between the nuclear-armed rivals.

The ban has since been expanded to cover more than 300 apps, including the popular gaming app ‘Free Fire’, owned by Singaporean tech group Sea Ltd. (SE.N).

Tencent held a 13.5% stake in Krafton at the end of March through an investment vehicle, according to Krafton’s regulatory filing.

Shares of Krafton fell more than 9% after Friday’s news, then trimmed losses to trade down 4.5% from afternoon trading in Seoul. The company said in May that India accounted for a high single-digit percentage of its revenue in the first quarter of this year.

A Google spokesman said it blocked the game following a government directive, while the Indian IT Ministry and Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

In Seoul, a spokesman for Krafton said the developer was talking to the relevant authorities and companies to find out the exact situation regarding the suspension of India’s two major app stores.

“The government does not intervene in which applications can work and which ones cannot. They intervene in privacy and digital security issues, and BGMI complies with all the guidelines. MeitY (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology) has also pointed out that PUBG and BGMI are different games…,” Sean Hyunil Sohn, CEO of Krafton in India, told the TechCrunch news portal earlier this week.

‘CHINESE INFLUENCE’

India invoked a section of its IT law to enforce the ban, the source, who had direct knowledge but declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters.

Section 69A of the Indian IT Act allows the government to block public access to content in the interest of national security, among other reasons. Orders issued under the section are generally confidential in nature.

Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and the non-profit organization Prahar had repeatedly called on the government to investigate BGMI’s “Chinese influence”, Prahar chairman Abhay Mishra said. SJM is the economic wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an influential Hindu nationalist group close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party.

“In the so-called new avatar, the BGMI was no different from the old PUBG with Tencent still controlling it in the background,” Mishra said.

The ban sparked strong online reactions from popular gamers in India on Twitter and YouTube.

“I hope our government understands that thousands of esports athletes and content creators and their lives depend on BGMI,” tweeted Abhijeet Andhare, a Twitter user with more than 92,000 followers.

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Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Munsif Vengattil in New Delhi, Joyce Lee in Seoul; Additional reporting by Nupur Anand; Edited by Kirsten Donovan, Clarence Fernandez, and Muralikumar Anantharaman

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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