To curb internet addiction and especially reduce the time youngsters under the age of 18 spend playing video games, the gaming giant Tencent has rolled out a time-sensitive facial recognition system in China. The objective of Tencent Games’ facial recognition function is to prevent children masquerading as adults from getting around a government rule for underage gamers in China, which is in place to weed out excessive gaming. Since 2019, those under the age of 18 are banned from playing online games between 10pm and 8am in the country.

That apart, underage players in China are also restricted to 90 minutes of game time daily. On national holidays, they are allowed a maximum of three hours. Minors in China are required to log on using their real names and identification numbers as part of a countrywide regulation to limit screen time and keep internet addiction at bay.

However, many underage teenagers use their parents’ devices or identities to dodge the restrictions. Keeping this in mind, Tencent has decided to deploy facial recognition technology for those playing with an adult ID between 10pm and 8am. And it’s called “Midnight Patrol”.

According to a report in Sixth Tone, an online publication in China, Tencent Games said that it would conduct facial screenings “for accounts registered with real names and that have played for a certain period of time at night”, adding that those refusing the facial verification or failing it “will be treated as a minor” and “kicked offline”.

A report in The New York Times said that a wider rollout of the facial recognition technology has set off a debate in China. While some were in favour of the technology, others felt that the company was assuming the role of a parent.

According to the report, a hashtag on the microblogging platform, Weibo, even asked online gamers to be dressed properly in case the cameras on their devices captured more than their faces.

In a paper published in 2020, the China Security and Protection Industry Association, a government-linked trade group, had said that facial recognition technology was a double-edged sword, as it would result in the mass collection of personal data, which could lead to security breaches.

Tencent began running tests of its facial recognition technology in April 2021 and has so far used it in 60 of its games. In China, facial recognition technology is commonplace. It’s used everywhere from hotels to banks and in most public places.