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Why would PUBG Mobile India ping servers in China after languishing in limbo for so long?

Just why?

Why, after spending almost a year in limbo since PUBG Mobile was banned following Indo–Chinese border skirmishes, and then scrambling to make up for it by terminating Chinese company Tencent’s publishing rights for the game in India; after promising to plough US$100 million into India and renaming the game to remove “PUBG” from the title; replacing visuals of blood with green splotches to appease… who, exactly?; after signing a deal with Microsoft Azure to proudly host user data in India; why, after all this, would South Korean game developer Krafton Inc. have their supposedly non-Chinese app ping a server in China? Because that’s what has happened until last night, per IGN India, following the relaunch of PUBG Mobile under the new avatar of Battlegrounds Mobile India. The company was able to push a patch on Monday night, merely a day after the issue came to light, that stopped the pings.

In a statement Tuesday evening, Krafton downplayed the pings, saying that “KRAFTON will continue to closely monitor and protect any data being transferred to unexpected and restricted IP addresses prior to the official launch.” The statement also said that the game’s “privacy policy (link) fully discloses that the app may transfer some user data, with users’ consent to the privacy policy and choosing to migrate their accounts. No data has been shared in violation of the privacy policy,” which, given the circumstances and what Krafton has implicitly admitted to, seems to imply that the terms give way for personal data to be pinged at Chinese servers. The full statement is below.

It is so easy not to ping Chinese servers! Its internet is among the world’s most atmanirbhar, with hosting providers going out of their way to ensure that that by default their users’ data will never touch Chinese soil. Why, Zoom even got into a bit of trouble for routing data through Chinese servers last year, spooking users even in places like the US, which isn’t a country that’s too inclined to sabre-rattle about data localisation. Not only does India fall into that localisation-loving stock of countries keen on making sure that its citizens’ data should only be stored in hard drives inside the country, but it also has an adversarial relationship with China.

Why then, amid all these circumstances that meant that Krafton was already walking on eggshells, would the company… ping a server in China?! Not that there’s something necessarily nefarious about doing that — all apps ping servers all over the world for different purposes — but here, after all this? Not only is the app pinging servers in China, the servers it is pinging reportedly belong to China Mobile, the country’s largest telecom operator, and Tencent, the very Chinese PUBG publisher which Krafton supposedly disavowed. When you have all the time in the world, purchased for you by excessive public scrutiny over your links to China, how hard is it to just make sure you don’t ping servers in China?

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What happened

As Battlegrounds Mobile India rolls out to more users, a user sniffed the data packets from the app, and discovered that the app was pinging China Mobile servers located in Beijing. On top of this, the app was also pinging anti-cheat and cloud computing services run by Tencent, though it is not clear if these were also located in China. Meenakashi Lekhi, the chairperson of the Joint Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, took note of the issue on Twitter, and said that she would reach out to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology — which announced the PUBG Mobile ban last September — to look into the issue.

Full statement by Krafton

Statement on the recent concern on data transfer of BATTLEGROUNDS MOBILE INDIA

KRAFTON, Inc., the creator of BATTLEGROUNDS MOBILE INDIA and the owner of the blockbuster IP –  PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS, is working to fully comply with the Indian laws and regulations as we lead up to the official launch of BATTLEGROUNDS MOBILE INDIA.

KRAFTON is implementing the industry’s toughest standards for data security and is working to overcome any shortcomings throughout the Early Access testing period, for the official launch of BATTLEGROUNDS MOBILE INDIA.

In the meantime, KRAFTON is fully aware of the recent concerns over data handling in regards to BATTLEGROUNDS MOBILE INDIA Early Access test.

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With the hopes of convening with our fans in India soon in an official launch, KRAFTON has been tirelessly working on the Early Access test of BATTLEGROUNDS MOBILE INDIA to offer a distinct battle royale experience in a safe and secure environment. And with privacy, player data safety and protection being our top priority, KRAFTON is taking the concerns raised very seriously and has taken immediate, concrete actions to address this issue.

Similar to other global mobile games and apps, BATTLEGROUNDS MOBILE INDIA also uses third party solutions to provide unique game features. In the process of using these solutions, some game data was shared to third parties. BATTLEGROUNDS MOBILE INDIA’s privacy policy (link) fully discloses that the app may transfer some user data, with users’ consent to the privacy policy and choosing to migrate their accounts. No data has been shared in violation of the privacy policy.

Thus, data shared to third parties are ONLY to enable certain game features. In the meantime, KRAFTON will continue to closely monitor and protect any data being transferred to unexpected and restricted IP addresses prior to the official launch.

Timeline of PUBG Mobile/Battlegrounds Mobile India ban

  • August, 2020: Krafton, the Korean company that owns PUBG and develops the game for PC and consoles, meets with Indian embassy officials to discuss the company’s plans in India.
  • September, 2020: The game is banned in India along with other Chinese-developed apps. Soon after, Tencent’s publishing rights for the game are terminated, and Krafton, the Korean company which owns the brand, takes over.
  • November, 2020: Krafton signs a pact with Microsoft to use Azure servers in India for supporting the game. Soon after, the company announces an intent to invest US$100 million in its operations in the country, and that it will launch a renamed version of the game, PUBG Mobile India, with censored visuals. MEITY maintains a silence on the relaunch, refusing to approve or explicitly block the move.
  • May, 2021: After months of inactivity and shelved marketing promotions, Krafton announces yet another renaming drive, calling the game Battlegrounds Mobile India, retaining much of PUBG’s key art and gameplay. No release date is announced. Former MLA and Union Minister of State Ninong Ering asks the government to thwart the relaunch, a demand that is backed by members of both the BJP and the Congress.
  • June, 2021: After a pre-registration drive in May, the game starts rolling out to some users.

Update (June 23): This post has been updated with Krafton’s statement, sent on Tuesday evening.

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Written By

I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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