Games and social apps will get the ESRB treatment on storefronts provided by AT&T, Microsoft, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless.
There's no question that smartphone and tablet apps have needed some kind of ratings system for some time now, especially on Android. Apple's iOS app approval process is unquestionably strict -- more so than Amazon and far more than Google -- yet that factor still doesn't prevent young consumers from downloading content inappropriate for their age. But that's now about to change thanks to a voluntary ratings system launched by Washington-based CTIA-The Wireless Association.
Revealed on Tuesday, the new ratings system will reportedly be backed by six storefronts provided by AT&T, Microsoft, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless. Mobile apps for games and social networking will use a 5-point ratings system created and operated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. As with games sold on consoles, PC and Mac, the ratings will range from the "E" for everyone to "AO" for adults only.
But as previously stated, the program will be voluntary, and so far has not enlisted the two major app suppliers for iOS and Android: Apple and Google respectively. "We’ve put a lot of effort into Android Market’s rating system, which now works well globally," Christopher Katsaros, a Google spokesman, said in an e-mail to BusinessWeek. "While we support other systems, we think it’s best for Android users and developers to stick with Android’s existing ratings."
On Tuesday CTIA stated that, when developers submit their applications to a participating storefront, they will be able to complete a detailed yet quick multiple choice questionnaire that is designed to assess an application’s content and context with respect to its age-appropriateness.
"This includes violence or sexual content, language, substances, etc., as well as other elements such as a minimum age requirement, the exchange of user-generated content, the sharing of a user’s location with other users of the application and the sharing of user-provided personal information with third parties," CTIA said in a press release.
The wireless association added that apps are rated within seconds once the questions have been completed. "Each rated app is issued a certificate and a unique identifying code that may be subsequently submitted to other storefronts during their respective onboarding processes, avoiding the need for developers to repeat the rating process," CTIA continued. "This means consistent ratings across participating storefronts and a convenient, cost-free process for app developers."
During the announcement, the ESRB promised to routinely test the most popular applications and closely monitor consumer complaints. Inappropriate ratings by consumers will trigger the ESRB to adjust the app's rating assignment and inform both the developer and storefront of the change. There will be no expiration date associated with app rating assignments and no renewal requirement, but resubmittals may be required if apps undergo extensive revisions that may affect its overall rating.
"Verizon Wireless applauds CTIA and ESRB for taking this step to help consumers better understand what kind of content is available on their mobile devices, and to help them manage their wireless experiences," the Big Red wireless carrier said on Tuesday. "Verizon Wireless has long supported CTIA’s efforts and has led the industry in offering content ratings and free content filters for its customers."
Today’s announcement is an extension of CTIA’s 2010 Guidelines for Application Content Classification and Rating, CTIA said.