Caixin
Aug 07, 2021 07:18 PM
BUSINESS

Beijing Prosecutor Mulls Civil Action Against Tencent for Alleged Harm to Youth

Photo: VCG
Photo: VCG

Tencent said it would closely review the functions of its WeChat app after a Beijing procuratorate announced it was exploring a public-interest civil suit against the firm, amid claims its “youth mode” breaches a national law protecting minors.

Under Chinese law, the announcement of the suit gives stakeholders 30 days to respond before it can move forward.

The announcement from Beijing Haidian People’s Procuratorate, which was posted on state-owned legal news website JCRB.com Friday, alleges WeChat-owner Shenzhen Tencent Computer Systems Co. Ltd. is violating the Law on the Protection of Minors (link in Chinese), without specifying how.

Chinese procuratorates were granted the power to file public-interest civil lawsuits on the issues concerning teenager rights protection by that law after it was amended last year (link in Chinese).

WeChat launched its “youth mode” in October and the latest version allows parents to block access to online games, credit card, livestreaming and streamer tipping, Tencent said in a response. It can also show teenagers exclusive content in WeChat’s video section.

WeChat had over 1.2 billion active users by the end last year, according to the annual report of the tech conglomerate’s Hong Kong-listed platform Tencent Holdings Ltd.

Regulators have directed tech companies to take measures that protect young people against internet addiction, with online games being a prime target. Last month, the Cyberspace Administration of China launched (link in Chinese) a campaign to crack down on online activity that endangers the physical and mental health of teenagers, with one measure demanding online platforms to fix loopholes in their youth modes.

In June, a Beijing-based non-profit said it would file a separate public interest suit against Tencent, accusing its popular online mobile game Honor of Kings (王者荣耀) of infringing teenager rights.

Chinese tech giants have been caught up in a regulatory storm that prompted massive sell-offs of U.S.-listed Chinese companies.

Contact reporter Guo Yingzhe (yingzheguo@caixin.com) and editor Flynn Murphy (flynnmurphy@caixin.com)

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