For almost every video game limitation, kids and teens can find a way to bypass them.
In China, however, the room for maneuver is shrinking, where underage gamblers are required to log in with their real name and identification number as part of national regulations to limit screen time and curb internet addiction. In 2019, the country imposed a cyber curfew that banned anyone under the age of 18 from playing games between 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.
Realizing that cunning teenagers could try using their parents’ devices or identities to circumvent the restrictions, Chinese internet giant Tencent said this week that it will fill the void by using facial recognition technology in its video games.
“Kids, put your phones away and go to sleep,” Tencent said in a statement Tuesday when it officially launched the Midnight Patrol feature. The wider adoption sparked a debate on Chinese internet platforms about the technology’s benefits and privacy risks.
Some supported the controls, saying they would fight teenagers’ internet addiction, but also asked how the data would be passed on to the authorities. Others said Tencent was playing an overly paternalistic role.
“Such things should be done by parents,” wrote a user named Qian Mo Chanter on Zhihu, a Quora-like platform. “Control the child and save the game.”
Thousands of internet users complained about the tightening of controls and the shrinking space for anonymity in cyberspace. A hashtag on Weibo, a microblogging platform, reminded players that if the camera caught more than their faces, they would be fully dressed.
Xu Minghao, a 24-year-old programmer in northern Qingdao City, said he will delete all video games that require facial recognition, citing privacy concerns. “I don’t trust any of this software,” he wrote on Zhihu.
Daily business briefing
July 8, 2021, 3:31 p.m. ET
Privacy concerns were widely discussed when minors were required to register in 2019. Calling facial recognition technology a double-edged sword, the China Security and Protection Industry Association, a government-affiliated trade group, said in a published paper last year that the mass collection of personal data could lead to security breaches.
Tencent said it started testing facial recognition technology in April to check the ages of avid night players and has since used it in 60 of its games. In June, it caused an average of 5.8 million daily users to show their faces when logging in and blocked more than 90 percent of those who declined or failed face verification from accessing their accounts.
Face recognition technology is widely used in China to facilitate daily activities and regulate public behavior. Hotels use it when checking in guests, while banks use it to verify payments. The state uses it to track down criminal suspects. One city has even used the technology to discourage its residents from wearing pajamas in public.
In the case of video games, the government has long held them responsible for causing myopia, sleep deprivation, and poor academic achievement in young people. The 2019 regulations also limited how much time and money underage users could spend playing video games.
China isn’t the only country trying to curb screen time. Last year, Kagawa Prefecture in Japan asked parents to set deadlines for children under the age of 20, but without establishing enforcement mechanisms. The move prompted a 17-year-old high school student to challenge the government in court. The lawsuit is still ongoing.
Hikari Hida contributed to the coverage.