Smartphones problematic for net cafes

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China’s cyber cafes were once very popular with teenagers, but now their patronage has waned due to the emergence of tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices.

“Several years ago, we were able to get tens of thousands of (yuan) a day, but now we are only able to earn several thousand,” said Mr Liu, who owns an internet cafe with 30 computers in Beijing’s Chaoyangmen district.

The proliferation of cheap tablets and smartphones in China is a positive development for some, but cafe owners fear that their business may become obsolete like video rental shops.

According to a study conducted by firm Tencent, the number of cafes in China slumped in the period from 2011 to 2012 after growing steadily since 2004. Approximately 10,000 net cafes went bust in 2012 and only 136,000 licensed cafes remain.

The percentage of smartphone owners in China has surged to more than 40 per cent in 2013 from just 20 per cent last year, revealed research firm Canalys.

Although this is an alarming trend for cyber cafe owners, it is a positive one for users as the government has often used these establishments for tagging dissidents; cafes are obliged to check clients’ identification or even install CCTV cameras.

Authorities have implemented surveillance mechanisms in mobile apps, but the amount of information that can be obtained is still limited due to its novelty. It is easier to monitor people at internet cafes because there is already an existing surveillance infrastructure, added Maya Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.


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