CTIA-The Wireless Association Tuesday formally unveiled a new ratings system for mobile applications in partnership with the Entertainment Software Rating Board. The new system adopts the ESRB’s established ratings symbols, which classifies computer and console games according to six age-specific categories from early childhood (EC) through teen (T) to Adults Only (AO).
AT&T, Microsoft, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless have agreed to apply the CTIA ratings in the app screening process for their respective app storefronts. The trade group said other app stores have indicated an interest in adopting the new ratings scheme, but declined to name them.
Apple and Google, which operate the two dominant app stores, each use their own set of age-based rating guidelines. The App Store labels titles as 4+, 9+, 12+ and 17+, while Google’s Android Market allows developers to designate apps as “All,” “Pre-Teen,” “Teen” or “Mature.”
For its part, Google, whose app store offers more than 400,000 titles, doesn’t plan to adopt the CTIA ratings.
“We've put a lot of effort into Android Market's rating system, which now works well globally. 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," said a Google spokesperson Tuesday.
Apple did not respond to a media inquiry immediately Tuesday about the CTIA ratings. But with its own content ratings and extensive app review guidelines issued last year, it appears unlikely that the tech giant will join the effort. The problem is, without the backing of the two major app stores, the new rating system won’t carry much weight.
Among the six app storefronts signing onto the CTIA ratings at launch, the timing for full implementation will vary for each. Under the new system, developers that submit their applications to a participating storefront will fill out a detailed, multiple-choice questionnaire to assess an application’s content and context for age-appropriateness. That could include violence or sexual material, as well as an app’s ability to share location or personal information with other app users or third parties.
Once completed, the CTIA assures that apps will be rated “within seconds.” Each rated app will be issued a certificate and a unique identifying code that can subsequently be submitted to other storefronts, saving developers from having to repeat the rating process. The ratings only apply to new app submissions and have no expiration date. But if updates to an app modify its content in a way that could affect its rating, it should be resubmitted, said the CTIA.
The organization first announced plans to develop a ratings system in March, based on its existing “Guidelines for App Content Classification and Ratings,” which call for voluntary self-certification of apps. The culmination of that process today included public support from U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Mark Pryor (D-AR).
Mobile app downloads are expected to reach 18 billion this year, up from 7.4 billion in 2010, according to a forecast by telecom research firm Ovum.