New rating system for mobile apps

The four main wireless carriers have agreed to participate in a new rating system for mobile apps, which was unveiled today in a joint statement from the wireless trade association, CTIA, and the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which will administer the new system.

The idea behind the rating system is to give parents and children some guidance on content, particularly when it comes to sexually explicit or violent apps. The system will be similar to the one currently in place for video games, which is also administered by the ESRB.

The new system is backed by AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Microsoft, and the joint statement indicated that other storefronts were also interested in joining.

“CTIA is proud to have worked with the six founding storefronts, ESRB and developers to create this user-friendly and reliable mobile application rating system that will provide parents and consumers with information so they can determine what’s appropriate for children,” said CTIA President, Steve Largent, in a statement.

The CTIA described how the new rating system will work:

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. Once developers complete all answers to these questions, their applications are rated within seconds.

Each rated app will be issued a certificate and a unique identifying code, which can be submitted to other storefronts to avoid duplicating the rating process and to ensure consistency. The ESRB will test the most popular apps to make sure they are rated appropriately and they will also monitor consumer complaints.

However, the new system lacks the support of both Apple and Google, who are by far the biggest distributors of mobile apps in the U.S. and around the world. Apple’s App Store, which has over 500,000 apps, has its own rating system, which features four age limit recommendations ranging from 4+ to 17+. Google’s Android Market has a similar four-tier rating system in place, which classifies apps as either “everyone,” “low maturity,” medium maturity,” or “high maturity.”

Although, Google commends what the CTIA is doing, it currently has no plans to change. “We’ve put a lot of effort into the Android Market’s rating system, which now works well globally,” said a Google spokesperson. “So while we support other systems, we think it’s best for Android users and developers to stick with Android’s existing ratings which are well known and understood.”

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