Beijing files lawsuit accusing WeChat's youth mode of breaching child protection laws

Along with WeChat facing greater regulatory scrutiny, Alibaba has separately suspended various staff who have been accused of sexually assaulting a fellow female employee.

Beijing prosecutors have launched a civil public lawsuit against Tencent, accusing Tencent's subsidiary WeChat of not complying with laws focused on protecting minors.

According to the complaint, WeChat's "youth mode" allegedly breached China's laws focused on protecting minors. In the complaint, the prosecutors did not specify how those laws were breached.

WeChat's "youth mode", when turned on, limits access to certain games and functions, such as payments and finding nearby friends.

In addition to making these allegations, the complaint stated other Chinese regulatory agencies could file related lawsuits within 30 days due to findings made by the prosecutors.

Chinese authorities as of late have increasingly called for minors to be better protected online, with the government issuing a mandate late last month for people under the age of 16 to be banned from appearing in content within online live-streaming and video platforms.

QQ, another Tencent subsidiary, was fined as part of that mandate as it displayed soft pornographic images of children.

In addition, Tencent last week announced further limits to how much people aged under 18 can play its flagship game Honour of Kings, according to South China Morning Post as part of efforts to meet these calls for improved online protection of minors. Gamers under the age of 18 will have their playing time limited to one hour on regular days and two hours on public holidays, the report said.

Online child protection is just one among many areas where Tencent and its subsidiaries have faced greater regulatory scrutiny in recent months as part of Beijing's wider local crackdown on tech. A fortnight ago, WeChat temporarily stopped the registration of new users on the Chinese version of its app in order to comply with local laws and regulations. 

Tencent is also currently under investigation as part of the crackdown on tech and was put on notice in May for collecting more user data than deemed necessary when offering services.

Separate to the government's tech probe, Alibaba has suspended staff after allegations arose that they sexually assaulted a fellow employee.

According to Nikkei, the alleged victim published an 11-page PDF detailing that she was sexually assaulted during a business trip. The PDF was circulated heavily on Weibo, the report said.    

"Alibaba Group has a zero-tolerance policy against sexual misconduct, and ensuring a safe workplace for all our employees is Alibaba's top priority," an Alibaba spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

"We have suspended relevant parties suspected of violating our policies and values, and we have established a special internal task force to investigate the issue and support the ongoing police investigation. We will provide further updates as we continue to work with law enforcement on the investigation."

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