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Beijing has unveiled a system to limit minors’ device usage and control the content young people can consume online, in a move that poses a fresh challenge to tech groups already tightly policed by the state.

The proposed rules from the Cyberspace Administration of China require device makers, operating systems, apps and app stores to build out a new function called “minor mode” that will set time limits and curfews on usage, as well as create an age-based classification system for content.

Devices with minor mode turned on would, for instance, be mostly unusable from 10pm until 6am, according to the proposed guidelines. Minors would also be hit with pop-ups reminding them to rest after 30 minutes of usage. 

The system envisioned by Chinese authorities would allow certain smartphone functions to continue during curfew hours, such as emergency calls, educational apps or other functions approved by parents. Phones in minor mode would sync with apps so they would also function in minor mode, according to CAC’s proposal.

The moves come two years after the state restricted minors to just three hours a week playing online games to counter their addictive qualities and promote healthier activities. State-backed media referred to gaming at the time as “spiritual opium”.

CAC gave tech groups until September 2 to submit feedback on the proposals but did not provide a timeline for when the rules would be implemented.

Hong Kong-traded shares in social media giant Tencent ended the day down 3 per cent. Shares in video service Bilibili fell 7 per cent and short-video maker Kuaishou declined 3.5 per cent.

“Previous measures may not have achieved the expected results, so they made more detailed and thorough regulations,” said Li Chengdong, head of the Haitun think-tank. “But I think it is still hard to execute — kids are too clever now.”

The rules also push online content providers such as ByteDance and Tencent to create a separate and limited pool of videos and games available to anyone under 18 using a device in minor mode.

Content for minors should “promote the core values of socialism” and the “traditional culture of China” in an effort to “cultivate minors’ affection for their country and good moral character”, CAC said.

The rules would also push internet groups to classify content into five different categories based on age, with any child under three only able to consume kids songs and 16- to 18-year-olds provided “healthy content”.

A product manager at a short-video group called CAC’s proposal “overly idealistic and very difficult to implement”, noting that even tagging videos for different age groups would be problematic.

“Ten people from the CAC will have 10 different opinions when it comes to labelling,” the person said. But the product manager warned it could lead to job losses for video bloggers, game explanation bloggers, and those who share cartoon comics, if strictly implemented.

Additional reporting by Gloria Li in Hong Kong


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