Prosecutors in Beijing said the “youth mode” feature offered on Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s ubiquitous multipurpose WeChat app failed to comply with China’s law that protects minors.
The People’s Procuratorate in Beijing’s Haidian District, which houses Tencent’s Beijing headquarters, initiated a civil public-interest lawsuit against subsidiary Shenzhen Tencent Computer Systems on Friday. It said it would provide support to organizations intending to file such lawsuits and requested that they send feedback to prosecutors within one month, according to a notice posted on a website affiliated with China’s top prosecutor.
Youth mode, which was introduced by Tencent last October, limits access to functions including videos, games and payments for people under 18 years old. Wechat said in an online statement on Saturday that it had met with prosecutors and relevant regulators and learned it would need to bolster access controls on the app.
Friday’s announcement comes at a time when China’s tech giants are already facing heightened regulatory scrutiny over alleged monopolistic behavior as well as financial stability, data security and labor protection concerns. The regulatory scrutiny has sparked a broad selloff in shares of companies including Tencent, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Didi Global Inc.
China’s minor protection law, a revised version of which came into effect in June, added rules aimed at protecting minors from internet addiction. That has stoked investors’ worries that the law will give regulators even more power to disrupt a rapidly growing sector.
Last week, China’s state media labeled the country’s online gaming industry as “opium for the mind” and criticized online platforms for promoting celebrity culture, sending shares of Tencent and rivals tumbling and prompting companies to implement stricter rules to protect minors.
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