New draft Guidelines for “Minors’ Modes” that limit functions and content on mobile devices and applications have been released for public comment through September 2, 2023. The guidelines seek to give parents sufficient information, access, and management authority to help them protect their minors from harm.
In recent years, China has placed great emphasis on protecting minors online, even adding a new section on “online protections” to the Law on the Protection of Minors. Regulations on the Protection of Minors Online have been released twice in draft form, and a finalized version is expected soon. The primary areas of concern have been shielding internet addiction (particularly to online games), excessive spending online, cyberviolence, and sexual exploitation. [For more background see Chapter V of our overview of recent legal reforms involving Minors in China]
It is not clear that these Guidelines are intended to be compulsory. Their release as “Guidelines” rather than standards etc. is one indication, as is their consistent use of should (应) rather than shall (应当）in mentioning specific tasks, not to mention the lack of a section explaining liability for failures to comply.
Three themes underly the proposed guidelines:
- Parental Control
- Age Classification
- Linking three levels of service provider
Parental Control: The overwhelming thrust of the regulations is to give parents (heads of household) control over their children’s mobile internet use. Minors’ Modes will allow one or more associated parental accounts that will receive information on the minors’ use of their device and specific apps. Parents will also have the ability to modify all of the mode’s settings to extend or limit usage periods and allow or block further content (except as expressly prohibited by law).
Age-Classification: In recognition of the different needs of minors at different developmental stages, the guidelines divide minors into age brackets for purposes of setting default daily time limits, download permissions, and content recommendations.Linking Three Levels of Provider: Minors’ Modes are intended to cover mobile internet devices, apps, and app stores, and call for the establishment of interfaces and data sharing so that Minors’ Mode users are recognized across the different levels, avoiding the need for duplicative setup.
- Activation: The option to enable Minors’ Mode is to be as simple as possible, using start-up settings, system settings, or desktop icons that can enable it across apps and systems with a single click. For users who will not need it, these reminders can be shut off after factory reset on first start-up.
- Exit: Once enabled, parental consent is required to turn off Minors’ Mode. Parental verification can be done through various phone features as enabled, including passwords, facial recognition, fingerprints, etc. Minors cannot exit the mode, restore factory settings, use ‘developers’ modes’, or change the system time and date without parental authorization.
- Emergency features: Devices should be able to send signals and positioning information to associated parent accounts at all times.
- Usage Time: In addition to the default age-based daily usage durations in the table above, most services for minors are to be stopped entirely from 10PM-6 AM. Parents will be able to exempt specific apps or all use from these limits. Where minors use devices for 30 consecutive minutes, the device should remind them to take a break.
- Age-appropriate content: Applications should be labeled by age-appropriateness of their content, and app stores should have sections dedicated to content for minors. Download permissions are to be managed by age as per the table above.
- Restricted App functions: In line with existing rules, minors must not be induced to spend excessive time or money online. This includes prohibitions on certain forms of competitive fundraising, stopping chat groups and rooms themed on spending, and having limits on both daily total spending and individual payments.
- Social Media Apps: Social media must stop links to unsuitable content being shown to minors, allow limits to the scope of published information, and limit private messaging with unknown users.
- Usage reports: Associated parent accounts are to receive periodic reports on minors’ usage of the device, specific apps, etc. to assist them in regulating their children’s conduct.