China proposes time limits on children’s smartphone use

Chinese regulators have proposed to impose rules that would limit the time under-18s spend using smartphones to two hours per day.

Under the proposal, users aged 16-18 would be allowed to use their smartphones for two hours a day, children aged eight-16 would get one hour and children under eight would be allowed just eight minutes.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) also said it wanted providers of smart devices to introduce a “minor mode”, which would bar users under the age of 18 from accessing the internet on their mobiles from 10pm-6am.

The proposal would impact companies running some of China’s biggest mobile apps, such as TikTok owner ByteDance, and it has already caused shares in Chinese technology and social media companies to fall. Shares of Alibaba closed more than 3 per cent lower in Hong Kong on Wednesday, while those of Bilibili tumbled by close to 7 per cent in the country.

The measures come as a response to China’s concern regarding the amount of time children spend on their phones, which is said to be causing short-sightedness and internet addiction among young people. 

However, experts have raised questions regarding the difficulties in implementing such a rule. 

Xia Hailong, a lawyer at the Shanghai Shenlun law firm, said: “A lot of effort and additional costs [would be needed] to properly implement these new regulatory requirements. And the risk of non-compliance will also be very high. So I believe that many internet companies may consider directly prohibiting minors from using their services.”

China has in the past limited children’s interactions with digital media. In 2021, the country brought back a curfew for young online video game players, and video-sharing platforms including Bilibili, Kuaishou and ByteDance have been offering ‘teenage modes’ that restrict access to content and the duration of use since 2019.

Earlier this year, a survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) of 1,000 parents whose children belong to generation alpha (children born after 2010) found that 57 per cent of them spend the majority of their free time on online platforms, equating to one whole day (23 hours) every week. 

These percentages show a rise in the popularity of the technology, with kids’ engagement with VR growing by 320 per cent in the past year alone, from 15 per cent in 2022. As a result, the IET predicts that generation alpha will spend more than a decade of their lives in VR.

The draft guidelines are open to public feedback until 2 September 2023.

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