apps have blossomed from nothing into an expanding multi-billion dollar
industry in just a few years. Just last
week, the millionth app went on sale somewhere in the world. And the industry is projected to continue to
grow despite tough economic times.
great deal of this growth stems from the increased access that children have to
devices that are capable of supporting mobile applications, such as smart phones
and iPads. So perhaps it is not
unexpected that the mobile app industry has started to attract some negative
press, mainly from Congress on behalf of parents concerned about violent
content and privacy issues.
rating system will consist of two components.
First, there will be rating symbols to indicate age
appropriateness. This will be reflected
through a menu of six possible rating symbols: early childhood, everyone,
everyone 10+, teen, mature, adults only and rating pending. Additionally, there will be content
descriptors, which will pinpoint specific elements of the app that may have
contributed to a given rating. Content
descriptors will include indications of: blood and gore, intense violence,
language, sexual violence, and use of drugs. Furthermore, the content descriptors will
disclose whether the app shares personal information, utilizes user-generated
content and/or connects to social networks.
will be generated automatically based on a developer's responses to a multiple
choice questionnaire that is completed when the developer submits the app to a
participating storefront. The
questionnaire is intended to assess the content of an app in light of the
two-prong rating. Developers will have
the opportunity to appeal the rating for their apps should they disagree with
the rating assigned. The ESRB will also
maintain oversight of the rating system by "routinely testing" the
most popular apps and monitoring consumer complaints.
system has received a warm welcome in some circles. AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile,
U.S. Cellular and Microsoft have all signed on as initial subscribers. But significantly the two largest mobile app
providers–Google, the maker of the Android, and Apple, the maker of the iPhone
and the iPad–have declined to participate.
Google Android Market currently offers more than 300,000 apps which are rated
using a four-tier system based on maturity level (everyone, low maturity,
medium maturity, high maturity). Google
has publicly stated that they are going to retain their own system because it
is well-known and understood by Android users and developers.
Apple App store is currently home to over 500,000 apps. The apps are rated by Apple according to age
appropriateness. Apple has refused to
comment on whether or not they will participate in the new rating system, but
has not yet included itself as a participant, which is widely understood to
mean that they are politely rejecting the invitation.
ESRB has stated that due to the Android and Apple rating systems already in
place, they are not terribly concerned about this resistance, since "the
goal is to get information to consumers."
questions about the mobile app rating system remain and it will be interesting
to see how they play out: First, with
one of the principle goals of the system being to establish a standard rating
system across all mobile app platforms, will resistance by Google and Apple
marginalize this rating system? Second,
can a system that relies on developers to characterize their own applications
truly be considered fair and objective? Third, can a rating system that codes
each app be successful at a time when
there are so many apps already available in the market with hundreds being
released every day?
will this type of rating system will actually change behavior? Unlike the movie rating system, which is
enforced at the purchase of point, this proposed app system is cannot prevent
adult-oriented apps from being accessed by children. In that regard, it is more like the
television rating system, which can provide guidance for parents but is not
intended as an "active" shield.
Apple, as a storefront operator, acts as a gatekeeper at the point of
purchase. When a user attempts to
download an app with adult-oriented content, Apple's App Store forces a pop-up
message for the user to confirm s/he is over 17. Which begs the question as to whether a
rating system that is not enforced by the gatekeeper will be effective.
will keep abreast of developments as the system is deployed by stakeholders in
the app landscape.