By the time you read this, Google Play will probably have already changed the way apps are rated for age suitability, but why has it happened and why will it help you?
Google has abandoned the old maturity classifications which range from low to high, instead opting for a system being run by an external body. It’s supposed to show that it’s taking its responsibilities seriously in a world where an increasing number of children are allowed to play with tablets and smartphones without adult supervision. Google says that it no longer wants ratings produced by the developers themselves. Instead, ‘expert’ ratings are supposed to give reassurance to parents who want to know that apps really are suitable for their youngsters. The classifications are similar to those already used for boxed games such as Pokémon and Splatoon, for example.
The body being put in charge of the classifications is the International Age Rating Coalition, which was only formed two years ago, although its members have been in the business for years. The five members, who come from across the world, all produce their own ratings, which take into account cultural sensitivities and local laws. The IARC include Brazil’s Classifcacao Indicativa, the Australian Classification Board, Germany’s Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle, Pan European Game Information (PEGI), covering Britain and another 29 European countries, and North America’s Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Apps in countries without an authority participating will be given a generic rating.
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There have been concerns that it will be a time-consuming process to have apps rated differently according to territories, but developers will just have to answer one questionnaire, and the bodies will share the provided information about function and content. The IARC claims that makers of even the most complex of apps shouldn’t have to spend more than 15 minutes completing the questionnaire, and the automated system should give a rating almost immediately. There will, however, be manual checks if complaints are received or to keep track of the most popular products.
Google Play is not the first marketplace to have IARC complete its ratings. Firefox is already on board, and the consortium claims that Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are preparing to join. IARC has also been in talks with Apple, but the iPhone-maker is apparently sticking with its current system – for now, at least. There are some worries that this could be confusing for parents whose children use a variety of devices, given the complexities and differences in the ratings. There’s also another hurdle for parents to overcome. The ratings only apply to the contents of the apps and don’t cover any privacy issues. This means that a simple storybook app may be classified as being suitable for use by young children despite the fact that the user is asked to share data covering anything from photos and contacts to their location. Plans are currently being discussed to provide a solution to this problem as well as look at how children can be prevented from downloading apps regardless of their suitability ratings. The GSMA mobile operator representative is suggesting that children could be presented with tricky questions in a bid to catch out those who are younger than they are supposed to be, although how this will stop smart kids from doing as they wish is anyone’s guess.