China's biggest gaming company, Tencent, said it would review whether it adequately limits children's access to live streaming and other features after the government expanded a regulatory crackdown on tech industries by initiating a lawsuit against the company for failing to do enough to protect young users.
The online gaming industry was shaken this week when an official newspaper criticized their offerings as “spiritual opium” and cited examples of students playing Tencent's wildly popular Honor of Kings game for hours.
The lawsuit filed Friday by Beijing prosecutors against a Tencent subsidiary complains the company infringes the “legitimate rights and interests of minors” but didn't explain how. In the notice, prosecutors said that other agencies and organizations which intend to bring lawsuits against the subsidiary should contact prosecutors within 30 days.
Tencent is best known abroad as the operator of the popular WeChat messaging system. It is one of the world's 10 most valuable tech companies, with a stock market capitalization of about $560 billion.
In a statement on its social media account, the WeChat team promised to conduct “self-examination of the functions of WeChat Youth Mode” and “sincerely respond to the civil public interest litigation.”
“We attach great importance to the healthy growth of young people, and WeChat will actively assume the social responsibility of protecting and guiding young people,” the statement said.
Tencent and other Chinese tech giants including e-commerce platform Alibaba Group have been fined and reprimanded in a series of anti-monopoly, data protection and other enforcement campaigns launched since last year.
The share prices of Tencent, Alibaba, ride-hailing service Didi Global and other companies have fallen on foreign stock exchanges while investors wait to see how far the crackdown will go.
Regulators say they are taking action to protect consumers, market competition and smaller companies. Foreign commentators also see an effort by the ruling Communist Party to force China's biggest private sector companies to align with Beijing's official industry and economic development plans.