China’s cyberspace regulator said on Wednesday that children under 18 should be restricted from using smartphones to a maximum of two hours a day, sending shares of technology companies tumbling.

China’s Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said it wants smart device providers to introduce so-called minor mode programs that would ban users under 18 from accessing the internet through mobile devices between 10pm and 6am.

Providers will also have to set time limits under the proposed reforms, the CAC said.

Users aged 16 to 18 can use it for two hours a day, children aged 8 to 16 can use it for one hour, and children under eight can only use it for eight minutes.

But the CAC said service providers should allow parents to choose not to set time limits for their children.

Investors were not impressed.

Shares of Chinese technology companies were mostly lower in afternoon trading in Hong Kong after the Cyberspace Administration of China released draft guidelines, which it said will be available to the public by Sept. 2.

Bilibili and Kuaishou fell 6.98% and 3.53% respectively, while Tencent Holdings, which operates social networking app WeChat, closed down 2.99%.

Xia Hailong, a lawyer at Shanghai Shenlun Law Firm, said these regulations will cause headaches for Internet companies.

“There will be significant effort and additional costs required to properly implement these new regulatory requirements,” he said.

“And the risk of non-compliance will be great. So I believe many Internet companies may consider directly banning minors from using their services.”

In recent years, authorities have become increasingly concerned about rates of myopia and internet addiction among young people.

In 2021, the government imposed a curfew on video game players under the age of 18, which dealt a huge blow to gaming giants such as Tencent.

Since 2019, video sharing platforms such as Bilibili, Kuaishou and ByteDance have offered “teen modes” that limit users’ access to content and the duration of use.

ByteDance’s TikTok-like app Douyin bans teenagers from using the app for more than 40 minutes.

The proposed rules come after Beijing signaled that a years-long regulatory crackdown on the tech industry was over. Authorities have said they will seek to support the growth of tech giants.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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