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Tencent rolls out facial recognition tech to enforce late-night gaming curfews

Chinese publisher Tencent wants to enforce China's gaming session restrictions for younger players with new technology: facial recognition.

Tencent has announced that it’s expanding a rollout of facial recognition tech in China to comply with the country’s restrictions on play-length sessions for younger players.

The move aims to expand compliance with the country’s 2019 restrictions meant to restrict how much time minors spend playing video games. Most relevantly, the rules state that minors should not be playing between 10 PM and 8 AM, and that play time should be capped daily at 1.5 hours on weekdays and 3 hours on weekends.

In what should surprise absolutely no one who circumvented similar rules set by their parents elsewhere around the globe, determined kids found numerous ways around the restrictions, which relied largely on the use of a national ID system tied to the government’s citizen database.

Just by using a different ID (or an adult’s phone), they could play into the wee hours of the night. ID theft by young players previously attracted national (and international) attention back in 2017.

Now Tencent is expanding its enforcement using facial recognition technology in games like Honor of Kings and Game for Peace. “For accounts that have been played at night for more than a certain period of time and whose real names are adults, we will conduct a key face screening,” the (Google translated) post states.

“Anyone who refuses or fails face verification will be treated as a minor and included in the anti-addiction supervision of Tencent's game health system and kicked [offline.]”

Tencent’s move here highlights the complex reactions many governments have taken in response to perceived damage caused by extended amounts of video game play.

China’s restrictions on video game play are rooted in the allegation that extended play can contribute to myopia, while the UK’s Department of Health Services has indicated it sees a link between loot boxes and gambling addiction in younger players.

However a 2018 Washington Post report pointed out that there isn’t a lot of data backing up the link between myopia and video games, though there is apparently a wide spread of near-sightedness in Singapore, Hong Kong, and other Asian regions.

Meanwhile a recent study from UK org GambleAware argues it did find a link between gambling addiction and loot box mechanics.

The deployment of facial recognition technology also comes in a period where its use is widely on the rise (particularly in China) with privacy and racial justice advocates expressing concern over the use and refinement of the technology.

In both cases, video game developers—including the massively successful Tencent—find themselves caught in a sea of broader social change.

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