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China floats two-hour daily limit of smartphone screen time for kids

The powerful Cyberspace Administration of China proposed rules that would limit the screen time of children aged under 18 years old.

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Chinese regulators have proposed rules that would limit the smartphone screen time of people under the age of 18 to a maximum of two hours per day.

The radical draft rules laid out by the increasingly powerful Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) highlight Beijing’s desire to exert control over more parts of the country’s digital life.

If the rules are brought into law, they could have implications for companies such as Tencent and ByteDance, which run some of China’s biggest mobile apps.

The CAC’s draft rules are a broader push by Chinese authorities to curb and prevent addiction among those under 18 to apps and smartphones. In 2021, China introduced regulation that restricted teens under 18 years of age from playing online video games for more than three hours per week.

Some of China’s biggest internet giants have looked to pre-empt regulators’ further tightening measures.

The drafted rules require smartphones to have a “minor mode” for those under 18 years of age that should be easy to access when the device powers on, as either a home screen icon or in the system settings of the device.

The minor mode will allow parents to manage what their kids see and allow internet service providers to show content based on a user’s age. According to CAC, children under the age of three should be shown songs and audio-focused content. Those between 12 and 16 years of age can be exposed to educational and news content.

The CAC warned online firms not to provide services that induce addiction or are detrimental to the physical and mental healthy of kids.

Time restrictions

The CAC’s draft rules split children into different age brackets and ascribe different restrictions depending on how old they are.

Children under the age of eight should be restricted to a maximum of 40 minutes a day on their smartphone. Kids aged over the age of eight but under that of 16 can use their phone for no more than one hour per day. Those aged between 16 and 17 can use a handset for a maximum of two hours.

A handset should not provide any services to children from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. of the next day, according to the draft regulations.

There are some exemptions from these timings, as regulated education products or emergency services applications are not restricted.

A parent must verify attempts to take a device out of minor mode.

China’s rules have not yet been passed and are open to public consultation.

Will it impact Chinese tech giants?

There are still question marks over how the draft law would be implemented and enforced, and what impact this might have on China’s technology giants.

For example, it is unclear if the creation of a minor mode will be the responsibility of the operating system provider of the device maker. In either case, it could put the onus on Apple, for example, to create something new for its iPhones in China.

It’s also to be determined how these time limits and the minor mode software will be monitored by the CAC.

Technology giants operating in the China — such as device makers like Apple and Xiaomi, as well as software players like Tencent and Baidu — will be watching the legislation closely.

When China cracked down on the gaming time of young people two years ago, Tencent and NetEase, two of the biggest online gaming companies in the world, said that users under the age of 18 contributed a tiny portion of their overall revenue.

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