Google Inc. is hoping a new ratings system and approval process will help reassure parents about what their children are downloading from its app store.
The Internet giant rolled out the new age-related ratings for applications and games Tuesday.
The ratings will be tailored to suit differences in regional tastes in different countries around the world, Purnima Kochikar, director of business development for the Google Play app store, said in an interview.
In North America, the ratings will be similar to the ones that have been used for video games bought in stores, such as “everyone,” “teen,” and “mature.”
A Canadian media literacy organization said it welcomed the move but added it’s no substitute for parental involvement in their children’s online activities.
“The more information parents have about what their children are consuming the better,” said Matthew Johnson, director of education for MediaSmarts. “But it doesn’t replace actively engaging with your kids in terms of what they’re playing online or reading online.
“A lot of things that are problematic don’t necessarily turn up in the ratings system,” Johnson added. “Things like gender portrayal, body image and stereotyping.”
Google’s move comes as young people’s use of mobile devices to access the Internet is growing exponentially.
In 2013, the percentage of young people in Canada with cell phones has more than doubled to 59 per cent from 23 per cent in 2005, according to MediaSmarts.
One in four students in Grade 4 has a mobile phone. By Grade 11, that figure has risen to 85 per cent.
The issue of what they’re watching, buying and sharing online is a growing concern.
Last September, Google agreed to refund U.S. parents $19 million for purchases their children made via apps without parental consent. Apple settled a similar case with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for $32.5 million
The Mountain View, California-based company is trying to lure more parents and children to its services and devices. Rival Apple Inc. has had a ratings system for its app store since its founding in 2008.
Google last month announced the release of a YouTube application designed for children, with age-appropriate videos, channels and playlists.
Google said Tuesday it will begin using a team of human experts – in addition to software -- to review app developers’ submissions before allowing them in the store.
The new Android app-approval process has been running for several months, Kochikar said.
Under the revised system, Google will work with the International Age Rating Coalition to give developers a questionnaire that will assign a label appropriate to the region where the content is accessed, according to Eunice Kim, product manager for Google Play.
The information will include information about what sensitive content the app might contain, such as nudity, profanity or alcohol references, she said.
For example, a news app with nudity might get a more lenient rating in Brazil or Germany than in the U.S., where such material is deemed inappropriate for more mainstream news services. Developers previously assigned their own ratings.
“People have very different ideas about what’s appropriate,” Kim said. “We didn’t feel like we were doing a good enough job today really addressing and being culturally sensitive to those different user needs.”
Google Play, known for faster approval times than Apple’s App Store, is telling developers that they will see no significant time difference under the new system of using human evaluators, Kochikar said.
“We are realizing that it’s been an effective way of catching the violations early and making the store better for users and developers,” she said. “The things that we are catching are the same as before; it’s just that we’re catching them faster.”
- With files from Toronto Star wires services