In China, facial recognition is required to be able to play video games

In China, facial recognition is required to be able to play video games

In China

It is part of the new regulations that have introduced a real curfew for minors, from 10 pm to 8 am

(Photo: Honor of Kings) With a move immediately dubbed "midnight patrol", China's leading video game maker, Tencent Games, has introduced sixty of the most popular titles to require facial recognition in case you are playing at night. The purpose is soon said: to follow the government indications to fight the videogame addiction of the youngest.

The abuse of videogames in China is not a commonplace and particularly afflicts the new generations with lots of clinics for detoxification and often out of control situation due to not so effective parental control. Beijing has taken several initiatives to try to stem the phenomenon with the recent publication of guidelines delivered to developers and distributors.

Among the most significant rules there is a real curfew for gamers under 18 years, which will be forbidden to use between 10 in the evening and 8 in the morning. In addition, you will have a maximum of 90 minutes to spend during the week and three hours on weekends or national holidays. Another related problem is that of huge in-app expenses - China is the main market with over 30 billion per year (2018 data) - for example for extra cosmetics: a ceiling of 200 rmb / 25 euros per month has been imposed. up to 16 years and 400 rmb / 50 euros from 16 to 18 years. How do you determine the age of a user?

Games require registration linked to personal identity, but it may not be enough since many minors naturally use parental documents. Hence the idea of ​​facial recognition: after a certain amount of time in which you are playing at night, the game pauses and opens the screen to proceed with the scan. If you refuse or accept and the system recognizes a minor, then the block is activated until the next day. What if you are an adult and the recognition fails? Patience, even in this case there are no appeals and you will have to try again the next day.

Among the games involved in facial recognition during the curfew there is also Honor of Kings, which is the most played title and with the highest revenues in China. It seems that the Chinese version of Pubg and League of Legends will also be involved soon.

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Outrage over crackdown on LGBTQ WeChat accounts in China

An online clampdown of social media accounts associated with China’s campus LGBTQ movement has sparked outrage, solidarity and backlash against the authorities’ treatment of the country’s sexual and gender minorities.

Dozens of WeChat accounts run by LGBTQ university students were blocked and then deleted on Tuesday, without warning. Some of the accounts – a mix of registered student clubs and unofficial grassroots groups – had operated for years as safe spaces for China’s LGBTQ youth, with tens of thousands of followers.

Attempts to access the WeChat accounts were met with an error message which said the content had been blocked and account deactivated “after receiving relevant complaints”. Other messages said the accounts “had violated regulations on the management of accounts offering public information service on the Chinese internet”, Reuters reported.

Related: China's LGBTQ+ community seize census chance to stand up and be counted

The shutdowns have added to concern over China’s worsening intolerance for sexual and gender minorities and activism, which has also targeted feminist groups and individuals who have sought to push back against discrimination.

On Weibo, a post by the Shihe Society at Fudan university confirmed the shut down of its WeChat account and was shared tens of thousands of times. “We were able to create a reliable channel with the outside, but now our communication will largely rely on Weibo and private WeChat groups,” it said.

Many Weibo comments appeared to be deleted quickly, but others expressed anger at the censorship. “Every love deserves to be seen and respected,” said one.

“I can’t believe this happened in 2021, I can’t believe it happened in the universities which should have the most pioneering spirit and be teaching people tolerance and respect,” said another.

The US state department spokesman, Ned Price, said the department was aware of the shutdowns and was concerned that China had restricted the accounts of groups that were “merely expressing their views, exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech”.

China’s social media giants routinely censor content considered to be politically or culturally sensitive, but it is often unclear if such decisions come from government directions or are made internally, based on what is believed to be expected by government.

On Wednesday afternoon the Weibo account of Zhou Xiaoxuan, popularly known as Xianzi, was suspended for a year for violating “Weibo complaint regulations”. Xianzi is seen as a key figure of China’s #MeToo movement, after she accused her former employer, a popular television host, of sexual harassment.

Tencent, the parent company of WeChat, did not explain the reasons behind the mass takedowns, and declined to comment when contacted by the Guardian.

The feminist activist Xiong Jing said the shutdowns were “quite a strong signal that the authorities don’t welcome anything that ‘contravenes’ mainstream values”.

“Both feminist and LGBT student organisations are seen as being influenced by western values or manipulated by foreign powers, so: purge them all,” she said. “This is not only homophobia but also political stigma towards non-governmental groups [including students clubs] in a continuous crackdown on civil society in China.”

Darius Longarino, a senior fellow at Yale law school’s Paul Tsai China centre, who researches LGBTQ rights in China, said that this week’s development is not surprising in the current climate.

“A degree of official indifference had allowed [China’s] LGBT advocacy to thrive in a grey space, but that space is now being squeezed down,” said Longarino.

Homosexuality in China was illegal until 1997, and classified as a mental health disorder until 2001. And while public acceptance – and commercial capitalisation – of the LGBTQ community in China has grown, authorities have not followed in step. The authorities’ slow squeeze of China’s LGBTQ community has been going on for some years – but until recently were often met with activists’ pushed-back.

In 2015, a Chinese film-maker sued state administrators in a quest to discover how and why his gay-themed documentary was removed from local streaming sites. He eventually won the case. In 2018, after an outcry, the social media platform Weibo reversed a controversial publishing ban that lumped homosexual content in with pornographic and violent material.

But activists said the space for activism has become visibly smaller in the last few years. In 2019, Weibo reportedly purged all comments and posts featuring the hashtag #les, in reference to lesbians. Weibo users also reported they were no longer able to use the rainbow flag in their bios.

Last year, Shanghai Pride, the country’s only major annual celebration of sexual minorities, abruptly announced its shutdown. In an open letter, the organisers of the event said the move means “the end of the rainbow” for them. “It’s been a great 12-year ride, and we are honoured and proud to have traveled this journey of raising awareness and promoting diversity for the LGBTQ community,” they wrote.

Amid increasing nationalism online, some corners of China’s internet have also sought to link, without evidence, LGBTQ and rights groups with foreign interference or “anti-China” forces.

Hu Xijin, editor of the nationalistic, state-owned tabloid the Global Times, wrote in a WeChat article that the state puts “no restriction on sexual minorities’ lifestyle choices”, but LGBT people should “be more patient” and “not try to become a high-profile ideology”.

It’s hard to tell whether the latest suppression marked a complete shutdown of such discussions on the Chinese internet, said Longarino. “My sense is that the short term is going to continue to be treacherous sailing, but the LGBT movement’s gains over the last two decades, in terms of its community-building and broadening of public support, coupled with its impressive resilience, can see it through,” he added.

In New York, a spontaneous art exhibition to commemorate the deleted WeChat accounts is being planned for later this week. Organisers of the event called on participants to bring their own poems, graffiti and rainbow flags to highlight censorship.

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