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Use spyware to curb excessive online gaming among children, government advises parents

The education ministry’s tips on dealing with too much gaming actually reveal that some of them are out of bounds.

The Indian government is recommending parents use spyware and internet gateway applications that can monitor content on the internet in a bid to curb excessive online gaming, according to an advisory released by the Ministry of Education.

The advisory asked parents to:

  • Install internet gateway at home which has features like monitoring, logging and controlling the types of content that the children can access.
  • Use antivirus/spyware programs and configure web browsers securely using firewall.

Although the harms of online gaming are real, the suggested use of spyware and other applications to monitor children’s online activities is concerning as it could undermine their privacy and freedom of expression.

Play along with your child to get a sense of how they are handling personal information: Govt

These are the other recommendations that the Indian government made to parents —

  • Take a screenshot of any issue spotted while playing a game and report it.
  • Do not let children use their real names while gaming.
  • Activate parental controls and safety features on the device or in the app or browser as it helps restrict access to certain content and limit spending on in-game purchases.
  • Report if a stranger starts a conversation “with inappropriate or requests personal information”.
  • Check the age rating of the games the child is playing.
  • “In case of a bullying, encourage not to respond and keep a record of the harassing messages and report the behaviour to the game site administrator/block, mute or ‘unfriend’ that person from their players list, or turn off the in-game chat function,” the Ministry of Education said.
  • Children should be made to understand that some features in games are designed to spend more. “Talk to them about gambling, what it is and its consequences both online and in the physical world,” Ministry of Education said.
  • Ensure that the child accesses internet from a computer placed in the family space.

Few recommendations go beyond the ambit of curbing excessive gaming

For instance, the Indian government asked parents to keep an eye out for red flags such as —

  • Becoming withdrawn or angry “after using the internet or sending text messages”.
  • Their device suddenly has many new phone numbers and email contacts.
  • Unusually secretive behaviour, mostly related to their online activity.
  • A sudden increase in the time they spend online, especially social media.
  • Changing screens on their device when approached.
  • The government also urged teachers to keep an eye on falling grades and social behaviour of the students.

Not advisable to recommend spyware: Lawyer

Rishi Anand, a partner at DSK Legal said that certain aspects of the advisory are not entirely advisable:

While the intent seems to address the concerns relating to gaming addiction, certain aspects like allowing parents to use spyware may not be entirely permissible in terms of the data protection laws. Given that the extant PDP Bill envisages sufficient safeguards to prevent unauthorized processing of personal data of children, the same should be taken into consideration while reading the advisory as well”. – Rishi Anand, Partner, DSK Legal

What parents should not allow children to do

The government said that parents shouldn’t allow —

  • In-game purchases without parental consent. “To avoid in app purchases; OTP based payment methods may be adopted as per RBI’s guidelines,” the ministry said.
  • Credit/debit cards registration on apps for subscriptions.
  • Children to download software and games from unknown websites.
  • Children to click on links, images and pop-ups in the websites as they may contain a virus and harm the computer, and may contain age-inappropriate content.
  • Children to give personal information over the Internet while downloading games.

Organisations demand online gaming regulations

IndiaTech: According to an Economic Times report, IndiaTech, an industry association, urged the government to frame guidelines for the online gaming industry based on age and genre. The association’s members include companies such as Dream 11 and Mobile Premier League.

In its letter addressed to IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, IndiaTech demanded standards similar to those of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, a self regulatory organisation that assigns ratings to video games in the USA, Canada, and Mexico.

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Distress Management Collective: A New Delhi-based NGO asked the government to set up a censor board for real money gaming and violent games. It also filed a petition praying for the Delhi High Court to instruct the government to implement the demand.

The DMC wants the government to “constitute a regulatory body with experts who can trace games that are violent in nature or where money is extracted for playing,” which would “suggest changes to the developers of violent games and should also be given the mandate to give age ratings for each game.”

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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