Can Malaysian government block Pokémon GO if they want to?

by Eshwaren M – 08/08/16

Pokemon Go is finally available in Malaysia, almost one month after the launch. Recent news reported that a Malaysian server is set to run soon, giving hope to the anticipating crowd. However, there are already multiple conservative efforts to make sure the long awaited mobile game will not be playable in Malaysia, ever.

I will try to keep this elementary without much technical jargons. Mobile applications are made by developers for different platforms. The two largest mobile platforms are Android and iOS. Once the app is ready to be consumed by users, developers will then upload it to online markets based on their platforms, in this case, Google Play for Android and App Store for iOS.

Google Play & App Store Blocks

Both of these app markets are regional, which means you will receive different contents based on where you are. This is generally determined by the developers themselves due to technical issues like server configurations (the reason for Pokemon Go’s delay in Malaysia) or payment methods, and localization issues like languages and targeted users. Apps like these will not appear in Google Play or App Store.

For both platforms, you may overcome this by changing the regional settings on your Google Play or App Store account. Setting everything to “United States” unblocks most apps, and still in English. Even now in Malaysia, you can download Pokemon Go using this method. For Android users, you may also simply download a copy of an APK file, and install on your device, making sure the file was downloaded from a trusted source and not contain malicious scripts that may harm your device.

ISP & Telco Blocks

The second blocking measure is through your Internet Service Provider (ISP). ISP’s can track which app is using its network, and terminate the particular connection. You may launch the app but not get any internet connection for it. This is the same way how your telco may give free streaming or mobile data for certain apps. 

Again, VPN comes to the rescue, and may alter the way data is transferred to your ISP. However, not all ISPs will block the app at the same time. A recent ban of Whatsapp in Brazil, was only for mobile ISP’s, and home connections were fine. Therefore, using a different ISP’s might help to overcome the block.

Regional blocked apps on Google Play.

It is quite common for websites to be blocked these days. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commissions have blocked hundreds of websites mostly ranging from adult to torrent sites. Website blocking is not a big issue since there are so many ways you can still gain access to these sites, using counter services like Virtual Private Network (VPN) and a different Domain Name Service (DNS). However mobile applications blocking is more complicated.

MCMC Website Blocks

Changing DNS gets rid of these kind of blocks.

Conclusion

VPN’s are now much easier to implement, but definitely requires some technical knowledge. Using such proxy without any information or troubleshooting information may cause more harm to your security and privacy. For Apple users, it gets worse. You don’t get Android’s power user options like rooting or installing APK files. Changing regional settings on your App Store is a painstaking process. Players might need to run a GPS hack if there are no Malaysian servers to simulate maps from other countries.

In conclusion, the ban is possible. It will atleast make the game not playable. Players will not experience the augmented reality and social parts of the game.

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