PUBG pulls India rights from China-based Tencent Games after ban
Barely a week after PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds (PUBG), an online multiplayer gaming application (app) developed and published by PUBG Corporation, a subsidiary of South Korean video game company Bluehole, was banned by the Union Ministry of Information and Technology, the firm has pulled its India franchise from Chinese conglomerate Tencent.
“In light of recent developments, PUBG Corporation has made the decision to no longer authorise the PUBG Mobile franchise to Tencent Games in India. Moving forward, PUBG Corporation will take on all publishing responsibilities within the country,” PUBG said in a statement.
HT on September 2 had reported that PUBG, along with 118 mobile apps that have links with China, was banned because there were reports that these apps were “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorised manner”.
The government said these apps promoted activities “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.
“This move will safeguard the interests of crores of Indian mobile and internet users. This decision is a targeted move to ensure safety, security and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace,” the ministry of electronics and information technology (Meity) had said. The was viewed as targeting some of China’s technology giants such as Tencent Holdings Ltd; the country’s search engine leader Baidu Inc; Xiaomi’s ShareSave; and online payments giant Ant Group Co’’s platform Alipay.
PUBG was banned in the third round of blocks done by the government in the wake of the increased tensions between India and China along the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Union Minister for communications, electronics and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad had called the decision a “digital strike on China”.
“This is a business call,” said an official, who did not wish to be named.
However, the official added that there was no question of revoking the ban until the government was satisfied that all its concerns have been addressed.
“The reasons and grounds on which the ban has been imposed go beyond ownership,” said the official. “Unless those concerns are addressed, there is no reason to revoke the ban. The larger issues are data privacy and security and the information that the apps are collecting from users. We have sent 70-odd questions to the blocked apps and asked them to review and respond.”
The government is already going through the answers to the questions provided by the 59 apps banned earlier and the 47 mirror apps banned in the second round. It will also be analysing the response of 119 apps banned in the third round.
All applicants will also be given a chance to make their case in front of a panel, which is yet to begin hearing their representations.
PUBG’s statement said that the “corporation fully understands and respects the measures taken by the government as the privacy and security of player data is a top priority for the company”.
“It hopes to work hand-in-hand with the Indian government to find a solution that will allow gamers to once again drop into the battlegrounds while being fully compliant with Indian laws and regulations,” said the statement. “As the company explores ways to provide its own PUBG experience for India in the near future, it is committed to doing so by sustaining a localised and healthy game play environment for its fans.”
India accounts for over a quarter of PUBG Mobile’s lifetime installs though revenues from the country are still minuscule, a Bloomberg report said citing data from research firm Sensor Tower.
PUBG had seen its user numbers sky rocket in India following the coronavirus disease (Covid-19)-induced lockdown restrictions.
The banned versions of PUBG included PUBG Mobile Lite, a leaner version of the app suited to inexpensive smartphones, as well as PUBG Mobile Nordic Map: Livik, a newer game played on a Nordic terrain.
Raman Jit Singh Chima, a lawyer and the policy director at Asia-Pacific at Access Now, believes that the government is citing law and order and data protection as grounds for an economic decision.
“Usually, countries prosecute a firm civilly or use criminal law if it violates data protection standards, and not block their services,” said Chima.
“PUBG’s actions seem to indicate that they are hopeful that the government may reinstate the app. If we look at the United States (US), they are clear about the fact that their move against Tencent is an economic one and aims to restrict its activities. The US has not banned PUBG,” he added.
Chima said it appears to be a political move and the government must also explain why it has used these provisions. “The order should be made public, as should the reports that led to the action. There may be other apps in India doing the same thing but the government won’t take action against them. That shows that it is a response to counter Chinese interests and not to protect the privacy of citizens or for national security,” he added.