Premier Li Qiang has signed off on a new set of regulations designed to create a safer online environment for China’s youth – and curb the growing problem of short video addiction.
This is the country’s most comprehensive set of youth internet protection laws yet, but is less strict than the Cyberspace Administration’s recently proposed limits on screen time.
The regulations, which come into effect on 1 January 2024, enlist the help of schools and technology companies to protect minors online through improved internet literacy education and specialised intervention software.
The new regulations come on top of the curfew in place for youth gaming since 2019, which has been deemed highly effective by a government-backed gaming industry association. Under increasing scrutiny from the government, ByteDance already elected to introduce an automatic “teen mode” on their flagship video-sharing app Douyin in 2021, which sets restrictions on the timings and duration of usage.
However, this is the first time built-in minor protection features will be mandated by law on apps and devices.
In a joint statement released on Tuesday, the party and government bodies involved said, “The Central Party Committee and the State Council attach great importance to cyberspace protection of minors, as it concerns the future of our nation and the happiness of families.”
According to the statement, the regulations aim to create an online environment conducive to the “physical and mental health” of young people by safeguarding against a number of issues including privacy violations, cyberbullying, and internet addiction.
Analysts are concerned about the possible impact of the regulations on China’s big tech firms, who have already been dealt a huge blow from the regulatory crackdown of 2021-23.
“For most internet and gaming firms, minors are not their target customers,” an analyst at CBJ Think Tank told the South China Morning Post. “Years of regulation against (internet) addiction has made minors a very small portion of free or paid users for top Chinese gaming companies.” However, the regulations could significantly erode minors’ usage habits, leading to bigger market consequences further down the line when they become adults.