India Bans Game Apps on China Surveillance Fears; The World Should, Too

February 23, 2022 Updated: February 28, 2022


Shares of Sea Ltd., a Singapore-based technology company, slumped more than 18 percent on Feb. 14 after India banned 54 game apps, including Sea’s popular Free Fire game.

While Sea is located in Singapore, its American depositary receipts (ADR) are listed on the New York Stock Exchange. While it is the city-state’s most valuable company by virtue of its wildly popular games, it also runs business-to-consumer internet shopping platform Shopee and internet payment app SeaMoney.

India’s ban was because of “elements hostile to the sovereignty and integrity of India and for activities detrimental to national security,” according to a government source quoted by The Hindu. India has banned 321 apps for similar reasons.

India’s concerns appear to be well-founded.

Sea’s founders are natives of China who were educated in Singapore and the United States; the company’s seed capital came from Tencent, one of several Chinese companies that India’s intelligence services have identified as having alleged links to China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

U.S. intelligence agencies appear to have concurred.

According to the Financial Times, in early 2021, the State Department and the Pentagon under President Donald Trump (during his final weeks in office) both wanted to add Tencent and other apps companies to a U.S. investor blacklist that would have prohibited Americans from owning shares of the company.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, together infighting against Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, an investment banker, resulted in Tencent and the others being excluded from the list. The Financial Times quoted a former U.S. National Security Council official to the effect that removing what he called “the Big 3” (Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu) risked being viewed as investors’ interests taking precedence over national security.

And clearly, U.S. investors are still interested in Sea, notwithstanding the national security concerns and the India ban. Fund manager Cathie Woods of Ark Investments, which invests in “innovative disruption,” reportedly picked up 145,000 shares after India’s ban on Sea apps dropped the stock.

It takes time for society to adjust to the kind of innovative disruption that is Woods’s forte. When such innovative disruptions have cruel or catastrophic consequences—as, for example, when innovation allowed the armies of World War I to resort to the ghastly use of mustard gas and other poison gases on their enemies—thoughtful world leaders of goodwill banded together under the Geneva Convention and defined rules and standards that banned poison gases in warfare. That was nearly a century ago.

Today we’re on the precipice of seeing such “cruel or catastrophic consequences” in the realm of cyberwarfare. Recognizing that, a small group of governments and nongovernmental organizations created the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace at the Munich Security Conference.

But this small step is hardly sufficient. Governments and tech companies must expand these efforts quickly and comprehensively, so that we avoid, say, a cyberattack on a nuclear reactor or the disabling of civilian air control radars mid-flight.

But as those movements grow and hopefully become an accepted international norm to protect cyberspace, those forming them must also insist that apps and app stores be included.

There must be for app downloads something akin to the “Underwriters Laboratories” seal of approval, with their ubiquitous “UL” logo, that we see on virtually all electrical products. Such an international third-party independent verification would ensure that an app is safe, that data servers are secure from governmental intrusions, and information as to where they are located. Prior to download, consumers should be provided a menu of options so that they select the level of personal information they share with the app, what portions of it they wish to use, and so on.

The independent assurance agency—perhaps part of the World Trade Organization or the United Nations?—would also prevent retorsion, which is a kind of “tit-for-tat” that occurs among governments that act against one another.

We are years away from making all this happen, of course. In the meantime, caveat emptor. And beware any app that has any ties to China as long as that country is enslaved to the global criminal enterprise that the world knows as the Chinese Communist Party.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

J.G. Collins
J.G. Collins is managing director of the Stuyvesant Square Consultancy, a strategic advisory, market survey, and consulting firm in New York City. His writings on economics, trade, politics and public policy have appeared in Forbes, the New York Post, Crain’s New York Business, The Hill, The American Conservative, and other publications.