Malaysia Banned A Popular Sugar Dating App. We Spoke to Its Founder.

In a VICE World News exclusive, Sugarbook founder Darren Chan spoke about his arrest, the app's ban in Malaysia and plans going forward.
Sugarbook founder Darren Chan
Sugarbook founder Darren Chan. Photo courtesy of Sugarbook 

Sugar dating first came under scrutiny in Malaysia in February when authorities caught wind of more young people using a specific app and website. Started by 34-year-old local entrepreneur Darren Chan in 2017, Sugarbook had been gaining traction among young Malaysian students, who turned to its services for easy income during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


But it sparked a fierce backlash in the predominantly Muslim country and drew the ire of conservative politicians, who pushed for an official ban on the service to prevent “immoral activities.” Chan was arrested and charged with “inciting fear to the public” and is now awaiting trial in May.

For the uninformed, “sugaring” is a lifestyle and form of dating which links so-called sugar babies with higher-income sugar daddies and mommies, who financially support each other, often in the form of cash and gifts. 

In an exclusive interview with VICE World News, Chan disputed the charges and talked at length about his high profile arrest, as well as his future plans now that the business is in jeopardy.

VICE World News: Hi Darren. How have you been holding up?

Darren Chan: I’m doing well but there’s definitely been a lot of things going on. Sugarbook may be officially banned in Malaysia but nothing else has changed. Our site is still accessible to our members via VPN and that’s not something we can control on our end. In fact, I would even say that things have improved for Sugarbook. We’ve definitely seen more sign-ups coming from across Southeast Asia.

At the moment, I’m feeling fine. I’m handling the necessary legal stuff with my lawyers with regards to our upcoming court trials in May so we just have to hang in there and persevere.

Tell us what it was like when you were arrested at your home. Were you at any point treated unfairly? 


I was in my car at my home lobby when three undercover police cars ambushed me from the front and back. I was definitely shocked but I also saw it coming. 

But I was treated fine. Nobody was hostile or rude.

Sugarbook founder Darren Chan arrives at court in Malaysia. Photo: FAHMI DAUD / AFP

Sugarbook founder Darren Chan arrives at court in Malaysia. Photo: FAHMI DAUD / AFP

I was arrested by the police and led away to the station. In fact, after enduring the whole media frenzy, the police said that they knew I was not some hardcore criminal. Some officers even told me that they were puzzled about why Sugarbook in particular, was being targeted. 

Speaking of the media, what is your view about the way Malaysian outlets have portrayed you and Sugarbook in their coverage? 

There is certainly a lot of rampant misinformation out there in cyberspace about Sugarbook and what our platform stands for. Malaysian media outlets brand our members as prostitutes. This is not only unjust and inaccurate but it isn’t right or fair. 

The fact is that Sugarbook is a niche online dating website and has always been a respectful platform. It’s kind of like Facebook in a sense. We take security very seriously and have never promoted or encouraged prostitution or human trafficking. None of the young women registered as sugar babies have ever been forced to sell their bodies. We empower them to have absolute control of who they want to meet and engage with. 

The entire episode in Malaysia has been blown out of proportion and become extremely ugly. 


The entire episode in Malaysia has been blown out of proportion and become extremely ugly.

For now, I plan to take a step back and evaluate the entire situation with my lawyers. We have nothing to hide at Sugarbook and we have been extremely cooperative with the authorities in their investigations.

There have been calls on social media for you to disclose the names of sugar daddies. What is your response to that? 

All I can say is that we have members who are extremely influential people in power. There are also plenty of local celebrities on our website.

I can see why people might want me to release names and expose the sugar daddies on our site but we take data and privacy very seriously and will never compromise anyone’s personal identity. The authorities have requested for the names and addresses of our premium members but I repeatedly refused to disclose any information. 

We have members who are extremely influential people in power. But I have repeatedly refused to disclose any information to the authorities.

Earlier you said that you expected the public backlash but were you surprised at how angry members of the public were towards your services? 

Sugarbook is the pioneer sugar dating service in Malaysia and we remain the largest.

When we first launched in Malaysia, I was confident but also knew that our operations would be controversial in the country. I do feel that public perceptions are very fixed and wanted to change that. I just didn’t foresee the magnitude of how big the backlash against us and our members would be. It hit me the most when I was arrested that afternoon.  


How do you think your arrest and the ban impacted Sugarbook? 

We have actually seen more sign ups in the country after my arrest but there have also been members who have dropped off the site due to the ban as well as security concerns.

Thanks to the constant media coverage, the episode sparked some curiosity from people who wanted to try it and see what sugar dating is about. 

Banning Sugarbook has certainly affected a lot of Malaysians. It was the primary source of income for many young women and I’ve spoken with a few when I got out of prison. 

We’ve contacted some sugar babies and have tried to offer our support in terms of safety. 

What are your future plans going forward? Will you leave Malaysia?

I’ve been charged with ‘inciting fear to the public’ and will not fight the Malaysian government. 

Malaysia will always be my country and my home. But after this entire episode, I am definitely deliberating whether or not to exit the Malaysian market and am considering my next moves. 

One of the things we have been focusing on is our overseas expansion in markets like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Tokyo, all great, global cities that we are keen on expanding our business in—so I can most definitely say that might be the direction we are headed.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article stated that most of the criminal charges against Sugarbook and its founder Chan had been dropped. We have since amended our story to reflect those changes.

Follow Heather Chen on Twitter.