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Chinese company uses facial recognition to police teen gamers

Privacy concerns were widely discussed when the real-name registration requirement for minors was introduced in 2019. Describing facial recognition technology as a double-edged sword, the China Security and Protection Industry Association, a government-linked trade group, said in a paper published last year that the mass collection of personal data could result in security breaches.

Facial recognition is widely used in China, like here, where Beijing commuters have their face scanned at the railway station.

Facial recognition is widely used in China, like here, where Beijing commuters have their face scanned at the railway station. Credit:Sanghee Liu

Tencent said that it began testing facial recognition technology in April to verify the ages of avid night-time players and has since used it in 60 of its games. In June, it prompted an average of 5.8 million users a day to show their faces while logging in, blocking more than 90 per cent of those who rejected or failed facial verification from accessing their accounts.

Facial recognition technology is commonly used in China to streamline daily activities as well as regulate public behaviour. Hotels use it when checking in guests while banks use it to verify payments. The state uses it to track down criminal suspects. One city has even deployed the technology to shame its residents out of the habit of wearing pyjamas in public.

In the case of video games, the government has long blamed them for contributing to youthful nearsightedness, sleep deprivation and low academic performance. The 2019 regulations also limited how much time and money underage users could spend playing video games.

In another sign of China’s moves to control online behaviour, Tencent’s popular WeChat messagingservice has deleted accounts on LGBT topics run by university students and nongovernment groups.

Wechat sent account holders a notice they violated rules but gave no details, according to the founder of an LGBT group, who asked not to be identified further out of fear of possible official retaliation. She said dozens of accounts were shut down, all at about 10 pm on Tuesday.

It wasn’t clear whether the step was ordered by Chinese authorities, but it comes as the ruling party tightens political controls and tries to silence groups that might criticize its rule.

The Communist Party decriminalized homosexuality in 1997, but gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and other sexual minorities still face discrimination. While there is more public discussion of such issues, some LGBT activities have been blocked by authorities.

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