CTIA and ESRB, together with the six founding storefronts and numerous developers, worked closely to create a developer friendly mobile application rating system that was also trusted by parents and consumers. Announced in November 2011, the CTIA Mobile Application Rating System with ESRB is an extension of CTIA's 2010 Guidelines for App Content Classification and Ratings .
To help answer questions consumers may have about the CTIA Mobile Application Rating System with ESRB, here are the top 15 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
- Q: What is the goal of this initiative? A: As part of CTIA's 2010 Guidelines for Application Content Classification and Ratings, the goal is to support the commitment to providing consumers with the information and tools they need to make informed choices when accessing applications using wireless devices.
- Q: Who are the storefronts that are participating in the rating system? A: The six storefronts are: AT&T, Microsoft, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless.
- Q: Who was included in the process of developing this system?A: Since the project's inception, CTIA and ESRB, together with the six founding storefronts and numerous developers, worked closely to incorporate feedback to ensure the system is user-friendly while meeting the needs of consumers.
- Q: When will the CTIA Mobile Application Rating System be operational? A: It is operational now. The next step is for individual storefronts to support the application rating tool as part of their application submission (or onboarding) process. As technologies and build-out schedules differ from storefront to storefront, full implementation will vary. Please look for individual application store announcements.
- Q: Why did CTIA select ESRB to help with the ratings system? A: We selected ESRB because their game rating system is well-known and trusted by consumers. We appreciated working with an established entity that has a proven track record for providing the public with reliable information about content. The Ratings Guide provides explanations of the five age rating categories and numerous content descriptors that are associated with applications.
- Q: Will parents/guardians be able to filter applications based on ratings? A: Most storefronts will map the ratings to their content filters, but this is a feature that will vary by each storefront.
- Q: I/my child used an application that I don't think corresponds with its rating. How do I alert you? A: Consumers are encouraged to contact ESRB to let them know about the questionable content and rating.
- Q: What are the ESRB ratings and how do I know what's appropriate for my child? A: The ratings that are applied to mobile applications via this system are similar to those for computer and video games. The Ratings Guide provides explanations of the five age rating categories and numerous content descriptors that are associated with applications.
- Q: How are the ratings determined? What are the criteria? A: Based on its experience of assigning content ratings for more than 17 years, ESRB devised an online questionnaire to assess the most pertinent aspects of an application's content. The questions focus on well-known consumer-focused issues (e.g. violence, sexual or suggestive content, nudity, language, substances, etc.) as well as contextual elements such as setting (fantasy vs. realistic), the nature of depictions (stylized vs. photo-realistic) and the user's perspective (up close vs. distant). While all applications are not games, the questionnaire generates reliable ratings that match consumers' expectations on age-appropriateness for any application by weighing both content and context.
- Q: If a developer chooses to omit information, would the application generate a "better" rating? A: We're confident that we'll be able to address any inaccurate ratings thanks to our system of post-release testing of the most popular applications and consumer vigilance. When developers create applications, especially games, there are target audiences and the ratings are typically consistent. Since any developer that purposely tries to manipulate its application rating would compromise its credibility with storefronts and customers, we do not anticipate such deception.
- Q: What happens when an application doesn't correspond with its rating? Will it get pulled from the storefront(s) or fined? A: ESRB will consistently test a variety of applications, including the most popular, to ensure that content disclosure was complete and the rating assigned was appropriate. If an inappropriate rating was assigned – whether identified via ESRB testing or a consumer complaint – ESRB will promptly adjust the rating. In addition, ESRB will notify the developer and the storefront(s) that have the application. There is no punitive aspect to the process. Instead, the emphasis is on quickly correcting inaccurate ratings to ensure consumers have reliable information.
- Q: Are all applications rated? What about a newspaper application, where the content changes daily? A: Once a storefront begins supporting the CTIA Mobile Application Rating System as part of its onboarding process, developers will be asked to rate new applications added to that storefront. Each storefront will decide on an individual basis whether or not to require all applications to be rated and if certain categories of applications, such as news or e-readers, will be exempt from the rating system.
- Q: How will a consumer be notified if a rating changes on an application they downloaded? A: They won't. But, based on ESRB's experience, the incidence of application needing to be rated again is expected to be relatively small. An application may obtain a different rating in subsequent editions, but a consumer would be notified when downloading the new version of that application.
- Q: How does the system address in-application elements such as sharing a user's location with other users or enabling the exchange of user-generated content? A: When developers submit their applications to a storefront, the questionnaire covers the content areas that are typically addressed by age ratings (e.g. violent 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 collection and sharing of personal information with third parties. In cases where any of these elements are present in an application, to the extent feasible, individual storefronts may display content descriptors in their rating information along with the application's content descriptors. Storefronts may also choose to incorporate this information into their filters so parents may block applications that feature any of these elements.
- Q: Are there elements that determine an application's rating category beyond content?A: Yes, an application's own terms of service will also play a role in the rating assignment. For instance, applications with minimum age requirements under 18 years of age have their age rating mapped to that age range. Those applications whose requirement is age 18+ must further specify the reason for the requirement during the rating questionnaire process. Any answer other than "enables commercial transactions" will generate an Adults Only (AO) rating. Applications that provide controls allowing an account-holder to block access to sexually explicit content may be eligible for a less restrictive rating than Adults Only.