•State media called online games ‘spiritual opium’
•Tencent this week curbed minors’ access to flagship game
China prosecutors initiated a civil public-interest lawsuit against Tencent’s popular social messaging app WeChat’s ‘youth mode’ in its latest crackdown on leading technology companies.
The lawsuit was initiated by Beijing’s Haidian District People’s Procuratorate against Shenzhen Tencent Computer Systems Co Ltd, according to a filing posted on JCRB.com, a website run by China’s top prosecutor.
Tencent’s WeChat team said in a post on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, that it “will earnestly inspect and check the functions of WeChat Youth Mode, accept user suggestions humbly and sincerely respond to civil public interest litigation.’’
Prosecutors had said the “youth mode” on WeChat does not comply with laws protecting minors. The document did not say how WeChat’s “youth mode” broke Chinese law but said it could support other agencies and organisations that intended to bring lawsuits against the Tencent unit and asked them to contact the prosecutor’s office within 30 days.
When turned on, WeChat’s “youth mode” limits young users’ access to some games and functions, such as payments or finding nearby friends. Tencent on Tuesday announced new curbs on minors’ access to its flagship video game, “Honor of Kings”, after its shares were battered by a state media article that described online games as “spiritual opium”.
Chinese authorities have called for minors to be better protected from online dangers. State media echoed the sentiment this week in articles that criticised the video gaming industry as well as online platforms that help promote celebrity culture.
China is preparing a substantial fine for Tencent as part of its sweeping antitrust clampdown on the country’s internet giants, people familiar with the matter said in April. The fine is likely to be less than the record $2.75 billion penalty imposed on Alibaba, the said.
•Reuters and Kevin Hamlin