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Juveniles need more protection in cyberspace, report says

By CAO YIN | China Daily | Updated: 2023-02-08 09:08

Privacy protection of juveniles in cyberspace should be strengthened through legislation, as more smart devices have become a necessity in children's lives, according to a recent report.

In recent years, China has taken measures to build a safe online environment for children, but risks that might harm their physical and mental health still exist, such as vulgar content and the leaking of personal information, according to a report issued by the Chinese Communist Youth League Central Committee and the China Internet Network Information Center.

It revealed that the number of underage internet users hit 191 million in 2021, or 96.8 percent of minors.

Its random survey of 41,200 people — students, parents and teachers — through a nationwide questionnaire, found that 20 percent of underage users are poor at identifying online fraud and rumors, with little awareness of privacy protection.

About 57 percent of parents and 79 percent of teachers expressed concerns about information security in smartwatches, smart desk lamps, smart speakers and electronic dictionaries, which are rapidly growing and widely used among youngsters, calling for rules to unify safety standards to regulate the functions of the devices as soon as possible.

The Internet Data Center said China has seen 25.8 million wearable products sold from January to March, of which 3.3 million were smartwatches for children.

"It's essential for device operators to prevent children from suffering online threats by strictly implementing real-name registration and upgrading security defense systems in a timely manner," said Kong Yiying, mother of a 7-year-old boy from Foshan, Guangdong province.

She bought her son a smartwatch when he was in kindergarten to keep him from getting lost. Although every friend request needs to be approved by her after a review, she admitted that her anxiety about the safety of such products remains unabated.

"Users are required to register the watch with their real identity, but what I can see is just the names of applicants, which is not enough, and it's difficult for me to figure out who they are, let alone for my boy to be able to," she said. "If someone is attempting to defraud a child by forging or stealing the personal information of another child, that'll be dangerous."

She added that device producers must constantly upgrade their verification system of users' identities.

A consumer surnamed Hu, from Chengdu, Sichuan province, showed similar concerns, adding "what I mostly care about is the security of smartwatches, instead of what fancy functions they have and how much they are".

Citing the survey result, the report also suggested the nation specify what functions such smart devices can have, especially regarding users' images, fingerprints and locations, with clear liabilities for the device producers and operators.

In addition, the report said that "teen mode" — which filters harmful content for juveniles and sets time limits — should also be optimized.

Kong agreed, saying "my boy is easily enticed to click fancy buttons on the page. Some content seems to introduce science knowledge, but I found it actually was advertising information for selling toys".

In August, the Cyberspace Administration of China said it had solicited public opinions in formulating the regulation and would provide a supplement for the revised Minor Protection Law, which came into effect on June 1, 2021.

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