Microsoft app store closes to minors in South Korea

Microsoft shares logins between its app store and Xbox accounts, so it is blocking both under Korea's gaming law

Microsoft has locked minors out of its mobile app store in South Korea since last month.

Young users are blocked from the mobile app store as an unintended side-effect of the country's so-called "Cinderella law," which cuts off access to online games for users under age 16 from midnight to 6 a.m. To battle teenage addiction to video games, the government enacted the law in November of last year. But due to resistance, it relaxed the regulation since this July so that children under 18 now have the option of setting the time limit for themselves with the agreement of their parent or legal guardian.

Because Microsoft uses a single login for all services, including Xbox Live and its Windows app store, the law means the company must block users under 18 during those hours. But because of technical difficulties in cutting off access for certain periods of time, Microsoft decided to close down the adolescent users' accounts altogether.

"We operate in 190 countries and Korea is the only country with such regulation, so the age verification system had to be installed," said Jinho Song, a director for the Microsoft's interactive entertainment business in Seoul.

So far, the only affected Windows phone is the Nokia Lumia 710. For future Windows handsets the company is working on ways to avoid the blockage, Song said.

Other companies have also suffered under the law. In June, Sony closed its PlayStation Network service in Korea due to the complicated restrictions.

In October, Microsoft rolled out its latest mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8, which was initially made available in 70 countries. The new OS has yet to make a big impact against industry giants iOS and Android.

The Lumia 710 has sold poorly in Korea, and there is little expectation about newer Nokia handsets like the Lumia 920. Both Microsoft and KT, the local carrier, declined to reveal sales numbers.

The shutdown law did not have a big impact on Microsoft's overall sales in the country, Song said, because of the low percentage of underage Xbox gamers. It is also a common practice for local teenagers to use their parents' information when signing up for online accounts to avoid the regulations.

"It's not the government's job, it's the parents' responsibility,"Song said, speaking about Korea's Internet regulations. "The excessive regulations are hurting the business growth."

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