Riot Games under fire for helping China monitor players

Marta J. July 27, 2019

Riot Games is under fire from the Los Angeles Times for its participation in China’s increased surveillance of its citizenry.

The Chinese version of League of Legends tracks how long its players spend in-game in order to limit the time minors spend gaming. The so-called anti-addiction system includes warnings to players when they’ve reached their daily playtime limit, denial of time-based rewards, and kicking players out of the game. This is measured using their national ID.

A government monitoring and logging the entertainment habits of its citizens would be considered unethical by many. Regardless, companies like Riot are often faced with a choice of taking a moral stand in support of their customers or fully cashing in on the Chinese market. They routinely choose the latter.

China’s increasingly close watch on the lives of its citizens has been receiving attention around the globe with American and European tech companies often finding themselves caught in the middle.

In Riot’s case, the implementation of the anti-addiction system came at the behest of Chinese parent company Tencent Holdings, which achieved full ownership of Riot in 2015. Though Tencent typically takes a hands-off approach, the report from the LA Times discusses the conglomerate demanding action following increased scrutiny from the Chinese Government and outlining the needs of the system. Riot quickly followed through on Tencent’s requests, functionally developing software for the increasingly authoritative regime.

Some might dismiss this as an exclusively Chinese issue but there is no reason to think that this sort of surveillance technology can’t be implemented in the United States, especially when it is being developed by American companies. Critics of the move added that Riot's willingness to normalize this invasion of privacy in China helps to make this the standard internationally.

As of 2018, Tencent is the largest game company in the world. It wholly owns Riot Games but also owns a 40% share of Fortnite publisher Epic Games while owning smaller slices of Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft.

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