During his press conference Tuesday, Emmanuel Macron spoke of his desire to regulate the use of screens among young people. Several more or less strict tools exist, particularly internationally, but their limitations are numerous, both from a legal point of view and the ease of circumventing them. We take stock.
The Chinese example
The example of China, often cited for its very restrictive measures to limit screen time, is very far from French reality. The country has organized extensive online censorship and has its own versions of certain applications.
Since 2021, children under 14 cannot spend more than 40 minutes per day on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, and the country has limited online gaming time for minors. These restrictions are made possible by strict control of the age of users, because access to social networks and messaging applications can only be done with a valid telephone number, linked to an identity document. If there is any doubt about the age, an identity photo of the person can also be requested.
Devices already exist in France
In France, tools for limiting screen time for minors are already available on certain applications or phones, and are also listed on a government site. “Contrary to what we tend to think, the platforms took up questions of moderation before being obliged to do so,” comments Leïla Mörch, an expert on the issue of online content moderation. Parents can thus limit the time spent on the social networks Instagram or TikTok, set an online connection limit on iPhones or Nintendo consoles, or install a parental control application developed by Google, allowing them to restrict the overall time online. or by application.
Meta, for its part, announced on Thursday the introduction of a new “Late notification” feature, which will appear “automatically” on the Instagram account of minor users if used between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., to encourage them to close the application. Making the adoption of these tools compulsory would, however, require placing this legal responsibility on the applications or parents. “Technically, the State could ask applications to block access from a certain time,” indicates Olivier Ertzscheid, lecturer in Information and Communication Sciences, adding that the question would be more that of legal basis and social acceptability of such an obligation. “This type of measure would be unprecedented in a democratic European country,” he warns.
Limits to age checks
The question of controlling the age of users and digital identity, already raised by the ban on minors’ access to porn sites, found technical answers. Some applications, such as the French social network Yubo, use the British company Yoti, which has developed a user age assessment system based on artificial intelligence, based on a photo. But the deployment of these tools is still rare, because beyond their technical aspects, they must comply with legal requirements.
The National Commission for Information Technology and Liberties (Cnil) thus reports that age control leads “to the collection of personal data and presents risks to privacy”. In accordance with the European Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which came into force in 2018, technically accessible tools such as facial recognition see their use very limited. Like other control tools, age restrictions can always be avoided: in China, limits only apply to connected media. Nothing prevents a child from playing all day on an unconnected device. Furthermore, some parents can circumvent the ban for their children by letting them play using an adult identity number.