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China Proposes Imposing Limits On Smartphone Screen Time for Everyone Under 18-years-old

Published: August 2, 2023
A young boy uses an iPhone to take photos in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on September 30, 2014. Apple said on September 30 it will begin selling its latest iPhones in China from October 17 after the Chinese regulator pressed the US giant to improve personal data security to gain approval. AFP PHOTO/Greg BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)

China’s powerful Cyberspace Administration (CAC) has drafted new rules around smartphone screen time for minors, proposing a limit of two-hours, or less, of smartphone screen time per day for anyone under the age of 18.

The new rules highlight Beijing’s desire to exert control over every aspect of its citizen’s digital lives, while authorities claim that the new rules are a broader push to address digital addiction among those under the age of 18. 

The new rules, should they be imposed, could serve up another hit against the country’s tech companies, including Bytedance, which is responsible for some of China’s most successful applications. 

The proposal follows regulations that were passed in 2021, that restricts teens under the age of 18 to three hours per week of video game play. 

Under the legislation, smartphone manufacturers will be required to develop and implement a “minor mode” on their devices that is required to be easily accessible when the device is powered on and be either a home-screen icon or be available in the system settings.

The minor mode is intended to provide parents with the means to monitor their child’s screen time and ensure specific content is displayed.


Different ages, different content, different restrictions

According to the CAC, children under the age of three should only be exposed to songs and audio-focused content, while those between the ages of 12 and 16 years of age can be exposed to more educational and news content. 

The draft legislation says that children under eight-years-old should only have 40 minutes of smartphone screen time a day and those over the age of eight, but under 16, can use their phones an hour a day. 

For those between the ages of 16 and 17, a maximum of two hours of smartphone screen time per day is allotted. 

The legislation states that from 10 pm to 6 am, no services for minors are allowed to be made available, however makes concessions for regulated educational products and emergency services applications.  

Tech firms are being warned by the CAC to be careful what type of applications and services they provide. They are required to ensure that their services do not induce addiction or are detrimental to the physical or mental health of minors.  

Questions remain concerning how to implement the proposed rules and it’s unclear who is responsible for implementing the rules and what impact they may have on China’s tech industry.

For example, it’s unclear who is responsible for developing the minor mode, whether it be the creator of the operating system or the phone manufacturer. The legislation could force phone manufacturers like Apple to create custom apps for their devices sold on the mainland. 

How the CAC will monitor and enforce the legislation remains unknown as well.