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Concerns over data transfer overseas, Chinese ownership behind BGMI ban

Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI), the rebranded version of PUBG Mobile from Korean game developer and distributor Krafton, was ordered to be delisted from both Google and Apple app stores by the Center over concerns that the app was sharing data with servers in China, as per a senior government official.

The official said that concerns were raised about the possibility of Krafton sharing Indian users’ personal data with foreign nations, especially China, and its ownership patterns, as an entity controlled by China’s Tencent is among the largest shareholders in Krafton. According to Krafton’s website, an entity called Image Frame Investment (HK) Limited — a wholly owned subsidiary of China’s Tencent Holdings — has a stake of around 13.5 per cent in the Korean company.

As per the privacy policy of BGMI, personal information of its users is stored and processed on servers located in India and Singapore. However, it says that data “may” be transferred to other countries and regions to operate the game or meet legal requirements. “The legal basis for such processing is compliance with a legal obligation to which we are subject to or are legitimate interests, such as exercise or defense of legal claims. In the event of transfer to another country or region, we will take steps to ensure that your information receives the same level of protection as if it remained in India,” the game’s privacy policy states, without clarifying which countries it may transfer data to.

It may be noted that before Krafton rebranded PUBG as BGMI and relaunched it in India, the PUBG Corporation — a subsidiary of Krafton — in September 2020 had said it will not authorize the PUBG Mobile franchise to Tencent Games in India, and took over all publishing responsibilities in the country. Krafton did not respond to a request for comment until publication.

The blocking order, it is learned, has been issued under Section 69 (A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which empowers the government to ask intermediaries like Google and Apple to take down any link “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offense relating to above”.

This was the same provision that the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) had used in 2020 when it had directed to block BGMI’s predecessor, the hit battle royale game PUBG, along with 117 other apps believed to be of Chinese origin for allegedly being engaged in activities which were “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of state and public order”. Before that, the same legal provision was invoked when the Ministry had banned the popular short video app TikTok.

The game was delisted from Apple and Google’s app stores late Thursday evening. Following that, a Krafton spokesperson had said it was “clarifying” how BGMI was removed from the app stores. A Google spokesperson said that on receipt of the blocking order, it notified Krafton and blocked access to the app on the Play Store in India.

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Slew of apps banned

In addition to BGMI, and its predecessor PUBG India, hundreds of apps believed to be of Chinese origin and suspected of misusing data have been earlier banned by MeitY.

Since the relaunch of the game in a new version, calls have been made to ban it, which gained significant momentum after a 16-year-old boy allegedly shot his mother because she stopped him from playing “online games like PUBG”. Last week, Rajya Sabha MP V Vijayasai Reddy had asked if the MeitY was taking action against apps like PUBG where “some children have also committed crimes when they were restrained from playing the game”.

To this, Minister of State for Electronics & IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar had responded: “There are various reports and grievances received in Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, conveying that apps that were blocked are appearing with new avatar by using similar sounding names or rebranded with the same functionality. All such reports and grievances have been forwarded to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the requesting agency, for examination. MeitY follows the due process as defined in the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009″.

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In February, an Assam-based NGO called Prahar had written to the MHA and MeitY to block BGMI under Section 69 (A) of the IT Act, claiming it poses a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the state, and public order.

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