China proposes strict screen time limits for youngsters

Two years after introducing gaming limits for under 18s, China’s internet regulatory body is now proposing severe restrictions on minors’ smartphone usage in its latest bid to curb “internet addiction”.

The draft regulations, which were published on the Cyberspace Administration website on August 2, propose a “minor mode” that would limit the amount of time minors can spend on their mobile devices. The restrictions are age-dependent, with a suggested limit of 40 minutes per day for under 8s, 1 hour per day for 8-16s, and 2 hours per day for 16-18s. The mode would also prevent minors from accessing the internet between 10pm and 6am.

The draft  includes suggestions about the type of content minors should be able to access. Websites and apps would need to reconfigure their algorithms around highly specific, age-dependent “content pools”, e.g. children’s songs should be recommended for under 3s, general education, life skills, and entertainment content with positive guidance should be recommended for 8-12s.

The regulations also state that algorithms should no longer promote content that “induces minors to become addicted to the internet”, which will be a major challenge to content platforms whose profits are directly tied to their ability to generate clicks and monopolise users’ attention.

China’s tech companies, including app developers and mobile device makers, will be responsible for building the minor mode functionality into their products, as the draft states that minor mode would need to be well integrated across devices, apps, and app providers. Shares in some of China’s top tech companies tumbled after news of the draft regulations broke, with shares in Alibaba down 3% and Bilibili down 7% on the evening of the announcement.

The gaming curfew introduced in 2021 saw gaming restricted to 1 hour per day on Fridays, weekends, and holidays for China’s under 18s. A year on from the policy’s implementation, a report published by the government-backed China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association declared the problem of gaming addiction “basically solved”, with 75% of young gamers limiting their play to three hours per week.

In light of the apparent success of this policy, the government will likely have parents’ support in rolling out this raft of new restrictions. The regulations are open to public comment until September 2 with a finalised version expected before the end of the year.


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