The Wireless Association (CTIA) and the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) just announced out a new voluntary ratings system for mobile apps. Apps can now carry maturity ratings that will be similar to the ones issued for video games like ‘E’ for ‘Everyone,’ ‘T’ for ‘Teen,’ and ‘A’ for ‘Adults Only.’
All of the major carriers — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular — and then Microsoft are jumping aboard to support it in their respective stores. But Apple and Google are conspicuously absent, meaning that these ratings may not find traction in the most important app stores of them all: iTunes and Android Market.
Update: Google says it doesn’t really see a need for another ratings system. The company tells us, “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.”
So how will ESRB’s ratings work? When developers submit their apps to any of the carrier app stores or presumably Microsoft’s Windows Phone Marketplace, they’ll have the option to fill out a multiple choice survey about their app’s content. The questions will focus on whether the app has violence or sexual content, for example.
But it will also ask whether consumers can share user-generated content on it or their location. Ratings are issued within seconds (not days like Apple’s app store, which uses human reviewers). Apps get rated once and they are assigned a single identification code that will work across all of the other app stores they might be sold in.
The ESRB will do cross-checks on random or popular apps to see if they are appropriately rated. If they aren’t, the rating will get changed and the developer and app store will get notified.
Even though this system is voluntary and it’s unclear how much traction it will have, it plays into a big trend that we’re seeing globally around maturity ratings for mobile apps.
It’s probably going to be a more important issue in Asian markets like China and South Korea where governmental ratings agencies or censorship boards wield actual power. South Korea’s Game Ratings Board recently started allowing a games category in Apple‘s app store and Android Market. Many local developers I talked to in China expect the government agency, which rates video games, to eventually come up with a system for mobile apps.