India blocks Krafton’s game under law it used to ban China apps-source

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

Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) has been removed from Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL.O) Google Play Store and Apple Inc. (AAPL.O) App Store from Thursday evening in India.

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

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

The ban has since expanded to cover more than 300 apps, including 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.

Krafton shares fell more than 9% on Friday news, later paring losses to trade down 4.5% from afternoon trade 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 spokesperson said it blocked the game following a government directive, while India’s IT ministry and Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

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

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

“CHINA INFLUENCE”

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

Section 69A of India’s Information Technology Act allows the government to block public access to content in the interests of national security, among other reasons. Orders issued under this section are generally confidential in nature.

Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and the nonprofit organization Prahar have repeatedly called on the government to investigate “China’s influence” on BGMI, Prahar chairman Abhay Mishra said. The 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 drew 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 over 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; Editing by Kirsten Donovan, Clarence Fernandez and Muralikumar Anantharaman

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