Singapore has raised concerns with India about its ban of popular gaming app Free Fire, owned by technology group Sea, in the first sign of diplomatic intervention after the move spooked investors. After the ban, the market value of the New York-listed company dropped by $16 billion in a single day, and investors worry India could extend it to Sea’s e-commerce app, Shopee, which recently launched in the country.
The sources, who include two Indian government officials, said Singapore had asked Indian authorities why the app had been targeted in a widening crackdown on Chinese apps, even though Sea has its headquarters in Singapore. Singapore had queried if the app “was banned unintentionally,” said one of the Indian officials aware of the diplomatic initiative. The concerns, raised with India’s External Affairs Ministry, were routed to the information technology (IT) department that ordered the ban, the two Indian sources said. The sources, both of whom declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the discussions, said they did not know how, and if, the Indian government planned to reply to Singapore’s concerns.
India blocked Free Fire this month among a group of 54 apps it believes were sending user data to servers in China, government sources told Reuters. China responded by expressing serious concern 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 to, or store any data of our Indian users in, China,” adding that it was a Singapore company that complied with Indian law.
India’s initial ban of 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, came after a border clash with China in 2020, and was widened last month to a total of 321, with Free Fire among them. India is the top market for both Free Fire and one of its more premium versions, Free Fire Max, going by number of downloads, data from analytics firm Sensor Tower shows. But India made up just 2.6% of Sea’s mobile game net sales in 2021.
Sea was founded in Singapore in 2009 as gaming publisher Garena and its founders are China-born Singapore citizens. 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.
(All information was provided by The Straits Times)