China is introducing propaganda and spying into children's video games

While many are concerned about the growing influence of the short-video social network TikTok and the Chinese government’s ability to collect incredible volumes of user data on it, China’s largest social media and video game studio , the Tencent company, has quietly been increasing its dominant share in the world’s most popular video game companies, without anyone noticing.

From Riot Games’ sales leader Valorant to the popular Fortnite produced by Epic Games , Tencent and the Chinese Communist Party are inserting propaganda and influencing a generation of children around the world while their parents are not looking.

Last week, Tencent announced that it has goal to acquire a larger stake in French studio Ubisoft, which is behind popular games such as Assassin’s Creed and Rainbow Six Siege.

Em 2019 , Tencent bought 5% of the studio and began to exert influence over the company. For example, in 2021 Ubisoft made visual changes to certain games for the purpose of selling them in China. Changes included eliminating gameplay symbolism and skulls from game environments. The company was forced to undo these changes, however, after players in North America and Europe vowed never to open the game again if the changes stayed.

Although the mild changes to China in some titles have been reversed after fan outrage, it is evident that video game studios are increasingly concerned with pleasing Tencent and the Chinese Communist Party. With that in mind, Tencent’s saga to become Ubisoft’s largest private shareholder should be taken seriously.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Ubisoft has released several story games and experiences online for children who have been forced into remote learning. As many players have noticed, titles like Assassin’s Creed have great potential in educational value with their simulation of historic cities and monuments. With the quality of our education system deteriorating, it’s not surprising that kids and parents turn to video games for a learning aid.

As Ubisoft continues to improve these story games and educational experiences, the Chinese Communist Party’s ability to influence and shape these foundational narratives poses a direct threat to children around the world.

Concerns about transforming video game narratives into propaganda weapons barely touch the surface of Tencent’s active campaigns to conquer the consumer’s home.

In 2020, netizens drew attention to the anti-game cheating software used in Valorant that looked like spy program . The supposed anti-cheating software ran when the computer was turned on — whether the user opened the game or not — and monitored all user activity, recording which programs were used. This program broke the industry standard and was considered intrusive on user privacy.

Although Riot Games quickly denied the allegations and changed the program’s structure, many remained suspicious. After all, it’s the same company that hid a data leak from millions of their user accounts. More alarming than that, in March of 2019 it was revealed that more than 300 millions of messages from users sent by the platforms and Tencent games were stored in a database used by the Chinese Police.

Tencent has established itself as a critical tool at the disposal of the Chinese Communist Party. The video game company used its games to spy on Americans and its digital content to advertise our children. It has behaved like a predator over parents’ lack of tech literacy, directly jeopardizing the privacy of their and their children’s data.

Tencent’s silent rise to global digital dominance is one of the biggest threats to American children online. From TikTok to Tencent and your kids’ favorite video game, China is determined to influence our kids and steal our private data. It is crucial that parents start taking the initiative to limit what their children are playing online.

Jake Denton is a Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Technology Policy.

©2022 The Daily Signal. Published with permission. Original in English.

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