Nov. 29, 2011 at 1:40 PM ET
A rating system that mirrors the one now used for video games will be applied to mobile apps, the wireless trade industry association said Tuesday, in conjunction with the Entertainment Software Rating Board. The move is geared to provide guidance to parents and children, especially when it comes to sexually explicit or violent apps.
The ESRB's ratings system — with seven classifications, from "Early Childhood" to "Adults Only" — is being initiated by AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Microsoft and "other storefronts have indicated their interest in joining," CITA, the wireless group, said in a statement. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBCUniversal).
"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 Steve Largent, CTIA president, in a statement.
The rollout schedule for the ratings system will vary by mobile storefront, CTIA said. But it promises the ratings process itself will be quick and not get bogged down:
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 app that is rated gets a "certificate and a unique identifying code" that can be used with other app stores, CTIA said.
The ESRB will "routinely test" the most popular apps and monitor any consumer complaints.
With more than 500,000 apps, Apple's App Store has the most apps, and its own approval system for them. Msnbc.com has asked Apple to comment on the new program, and will update this post if the company responds. We've also asked Google, which has the Android Market, second in the number of apps, with more than 200,000, for comment as well.
Updated, 3:45 pm ET: While Google says it commends what CTIA is doing, the Android Market already has a four-tier app rating system in place that it will stick with. Apps are rated either "everyone," "low maturity," "medium maturity" or "high maturity."
"We've put a lot of effort into 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.”