Malaysian police on Thursday arrested Darren Chan, the founder of Sugarbook, the controversial online dating app that was banned in the country earlier this week, on the grounds of “immoral activities.”
“We are investigating the case for publishing or circulating any statement, rumor, or report with intent to cause fear or alarm to the public, sharing offensive or menacing content, and prostitution,” Fadzil Ahmat from the Selangor Criminal Investigation Department told local media TheStar.
Darren Chan was charged with violating Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA), which prohibits using a website to publish anything that is “obscene, indecent, false, menacing, or offensive in character,” the report said.
The company stirred an uproar in the country last week after it published data on sugar dating in local schools that listed Sunway University as the most prolific institution in Malaysia. The university came out defending its reputation and attacked the online service for “challenging the moral fabric” of the education community, “aiming to promote and profit from immoral and possibly illegal activity.”
The internet regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), criticized Sugarbook for its “marketing gimmick,” saying that the cases will be investigated by the authorities. The platform initially tried to circumvent the ban by changing its URL to “Sucrebook,” according to a local media report, but was blocked again on Wednesday.
It is not the first time that the dating site faces scrutiny. In February 2018, one year after its launch, Singapore police vowed to watch if money is being exchanged for sex on the platform, The Strait Times reported at the time.
Sugarbook said it registered a 40% uptick in sign-ups in January this year in Malaysia and a surge in user traffic during the pandemic. The Muslim-majority nation is home to about 300,000 sugar babies, mainly young female college students in their 20s. Other countries in Asia are also getting on the dating bandwagon, according to the company.
The site cites the financial plight of the young as the main reason behind the rise in interest. A sugar baby in Malaysia can expect an average of MYR 2,500 (USD 619) per month from its partner, double the minimum wage of MYR 1,200 (USD 298) in the country.
But rights groups are nevertheless worried. Nevi Calma of the Philippine Commission on Women told KrASIA in a recent interview that there is a possibility that sugar dating leads to prostitution. Sugarbook said on Tuesday that it is taking “strict measures” to ensure there won’t be any further bans.