For almost every video game limitation, kids and teens can find a way to get around them.
But the room for maneuver is shrinking in China, where underage gamblers are required to sign in with their real name and identification number under national regulations to limit screen time and curb internet addiction. In 2019 the country is imposed a cyber curfew No games for under 18s between 10 p.m. and 8 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.
“Children, put your cell phones down and sleep,” Tencent said in a statement on Tuesday when it officially launched the new features called “Midnight Patrol”. The wider adoption sparked a debate on Chinese internet platforms about the technology’s benefits and privacy risks.
Some advocated 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 would delete all video games that require facial recognition, citing privacy concerns. “I don’t trust any of this software,” he wrote on Zhihu.
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Privacy concerns were widely discussed when the correct name registration requirement was introduced for minors in 2019. Description of facial recognition technology as a double-edged sword, the China Security and Protection Industry Association, a government-affiliated trade group, said in a paper released last year that 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 rejected 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 even used the technology to shame its residents out of the habit of 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 movement prompted a 17-year-old high school student to challenge the government in court. The lawsuit is still ongoing.
Hikari Hida Reporting from Tokyo contributed.