China’s efforts to curtail children’s smartphone usage overnight

**China’s New Rules on Device Usage for Minors: Imposing Limits on App Usage and Screen Time**

Beijing regulators have taken another step in their fight against excessive smartphone usage by children. The Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s top internet regulator and censor, has released draft rules that require smart devices sold in China to include a “minor mode” that parents can activate to impose limits on app usage and screen time. These rules shift the responsibility of controlling underage internet usage from software developers to hardware makers. The proposed regulations aim to address concerns about children spending too much time on their smartphones and the potential negative effects it can have on their development.

**The Details of “Minor Mode” and Usage Limits**

According to the draft rules, when a device is put into “minor mode,” it will enforce usage limits based on the user’s age. For instance, users between the ages of 16 and 18 will be limited to two hours of device usage, while children under the age of 8 will only have 40 minutes of screen time. Additionally, devices will block internet access between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. However, parents will have the option to customize these limits and grant exemptions to their children’s devices upon request. The restrictions imposed by “minor mode” will not apply to emergency services, educational apps, and other kid-friendly programs.

**Shifting the Responsibility to Hardware Makers**

In the past, Chinese regulators have focused on urging software companies to implement usage limits. This new move puts the onus on hardware manufacturers to include the necessary features in their devices. By doing so, the regulations aim to create a more standardized approach and provide parents with greater control over their children’s screen time.

**The Challenges and Enforcement of Rules**

While the proposed rules have the potential to address the issue of excessive smartphone usage among minors, implementing and enforcing them come with challenges. Previously, China limited gaming hours for children, and apps like Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) have already implemented limitations and content bans through “teenager mode.” However, these restrictions have proven challenging to develop and enforce. For instance, Tencent, one of China’s largest gaming companies, resorted to using facial recognition technology to monitor players and prevent children from exceeding their allotted playing time.

**Potential Impact on China’s Gaming Sector**

The draft rules primarily focus on hardware manufacturers, but software companies are not exempt from their obligations. Developers will be required to prioritize “social interest” content for underage users, including educational information, science content, and “core socialist values.” These measures aim to instill a sense of national pride and develop positive habits among minors. However, these regulations could lead to a division in product lines as developers may need to create differentiated offerings for children of different age groups. The impact may be particularly significant in China’s booming video gaming industry, which recorded 668 million players by the end of June and generated $20 billion in the first half of the year. China’s three highest-grossing mobile games in June were all developed domestically, suggesting the potential influence these regulations could have on the industry.

**The Future of the Draft Rules**

The rules released by the Cyberspace Administration of China are currently in draft form and may undergo revisions based on public feedback. Regulators have previously revised and weakened their proposals, as seen in finalized rules on generative A.I. that removed penalties included in an earlier draft. The final version of the regulations will shape the landscape for device usage among minors in China and potentially have broader implications for other countries facing similar concerns.

Overall, the proposed rules aim to strike a balance between enabling children’s access to technology and protecting their well-being. By shifting the responsibility to hardware makers, these regulations may lead to more standardized measures to control screen time and app usage, but their implementation and enforcement will be key to their effectiveness.

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