China’s cyberspace watchdog has put forward plans to limit the usage of smartphones by children to no more than two hours a day and to require all tech companies to introduce a “minor mode” to enable restrictions.
A draft “Guidelines for the Construction of Minor Mode of the Mobile Internet” is open for public comments until September 2, State media reported on August 2.
If the guidelines are adopted as is expected, China will be introducing some of the world’s most strict regulations for children in the usage of smartphones.
The proposed guidelines suggest restrictions for five different age groups: under 3, 3-8, 8-12, 12-16, and 16-18. For children under 8, the “minor mode” will only permit 40 minutes per day, and for those under 3, the guidelines said, “online internet providers should recommend children’s songs, enlightenment education and other parent-child companionship programs, and they are recommended to play via audio.”
The 16-18 age group will be given two hours of usage, and the minor mode “is prohibited from providing services to minors from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. the next day.”
Some questions about how this will be enforced remain unclear, but the guidelines are the latest effort by the authorities to curb what they have seen as uncontrolled digital addiction among the youth, which has been reflected in numerous government surveys.
The draft said parents will have to sign on and sign off the minor mode and will be asked to back the campaign once the guidelines are rolled out across the country. The minor mode is being seen as offering parents a tool to manage how their children use devices.
The onus is also likely to fall on tech companies who will be required to provide regular data to the authorities and will be subject to regular checks.
There is some precedence in how companies have been made to comply with such restrictions. In 2021, authorities put in place new rules to restrict online gaming by children, forcing providers to only allow one hour of service for those under 18, limited to between 8 and 9 pm on Fridays and on the weekend. Time limits have also been enforced by requiring all gamers to provide real name registration and identification.