WeChat rolls out elderly ‘Care Mode' as Tencent answers the call for an internet friendlier to China's ageing population

WeChat, Tencent Holdings, close the digital divide, guidelines published in April, Taobao, Didi Chuxing

WeChat, the ubiquitous super app operated by Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings, has launched a new “Care Mode” for elderly users that implements larger fonts and other modifications, answering Beijing’s call for tech companies to make their products and services more friendly to the country’s ageing population.

In addition to enlarging text, activating Care Mode also changes the colour scheme to make certain objects more recognisable and gives the app’s main functions larger buttons. The move is an attempt to “improve the convenience for user groups that include senior citizens and the visually impaired”, the company said in a statement announcing the new feature on Monday.

WeChat is China’s largest social network, with 1.25 billion monthly active users in the second quarter, and is widely used for everything from mobile payments to health codes. Care Mode is meant to address the country’s changing demographics, but the design change does not yet extend to all third-party mini programs that launch within WeChat.

The company said it would continue to explore more elderly-friendly services for Care Mode.

Tencent is the latest company to make changes to popular services designed for older users. The Chinese government has been pushing to close the digital divide and bring more people online. The country surpassed 1 billion internet users for the first time this year.

In new guidelines published in April, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) called on website and mobile app operators to include “elderly friendliness modifications” by the end of September. Requested modifications include larger fonts and removing pop-up ads.

The request came as part of a campaign the agency launched in January to improve internet accessibility for the elderly and disadvantaged groups. The campaign specifically targeted 115 websites and 43 apps, including WeChat, e-commerce platforms Taobao and JD.com, as well as government services and news organisations.

Taobao is owned by Alibaba Group Holding, which owns the South China Morning Post.

WeChat, Tencent Holdings, close the digital divide, guidelines published in April, Taobao, Didi Chuxing

Ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing introduced a new mini program in January specifically for elderly users. Photo: Bloomberg

Some internet services made similar changes earlier this year. Ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing launched a mini program for elderly users in January. The company said 578,000 elderly users took over 2.4 million rides in May.

China is facing a rapidly ageing population, and many of the country’s elderly were forced online for the first time by the Covid-19 pandemic. People over the age of 50 are now the fastest growing group of internet users, accounting for 30 per cent of the country’s 1 billion netizens in September, according to the China Internet Network Information Centre.

Citizens 65 years old and over made up 13.5 per cent of the country’s 1.41 billion people, according to census data last year, an 8.9 per cent jump from a decade ago. The government estimates that about a quarter of its population will be older than 60 by 2030.

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