“These mobile app stores are not living up their promises to keep young users safe.”
Reviewing the Enforcement of App Age Ratings in Apple’s App Store and Google Play
Every day, children and youth access mobile app stores to download games, social media, and other online services that open them up to potential risk. As such, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P) conducted a child safety analysis of the two largest mobile app stores—Apple’s App Store and Google Play—which looked at how, and if, Apple and Google are enforcing app age ratings on their mobile app stores for two groups: children under 13, and youth 13-17. The resulting research led to many findings that raise significant concerns for the protection of children/youth online, and for families who use age ratings to gauge safety.
Read the Report
There is inconsistent enforcement of app age ratings
- Example: In Apple’s App Store, 13 year olds could download 17+ apps by simply clicking a pop-up box “confirming” they were 17+ even though Apple knows the user is 13 based on the age entered in the account.
When children and youth search for apps, some “promoted or suggested apps” that were visible were rated higher than the age associated with the account
- Example: Searching for YuboTM in Google Play as an 11 year old brought up the recommended app 3Fun: Threesomes Couples Dating, and Chatous: 18+ Live Video Chat.
There are age rating inconsistencies across Apple, Google and the apps’ terms of services
- Example: YouTube® is rated 17+ on Apple, 13+ (“Teen”) on Google Play, and 13+ in YouTube’s terms of service
Chatroulette-style apps were available for download in Google Play and Apple’s App store, despite Apple making them subject to removal from their store in 2010
- Example: Searching for “chatroulette” in Apple’s App Store as an 11 and 13 year old, returned numerous apps, including Chat for Strangers: Video Chat, Juice Live: Adult Video Chat, and Showme; Random Video Chat.
Both mobile app stores lacked transparency on how they establish app age ratings, and have inconsistency in content descriptions
- Example: YouTube on Apple’s App Store has multiple content descriptions, including “Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity” and “Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes,” while Google Play’s content descriptors for YouTube are “Users Interact” and “Digital Purchases.”
Stemming from these findings, C3P has four recommendations that could be voluntarily adopted by mobile app stores, or mandated by governments, to increase the safety and protection of children and youth:
- Provide transparent information on how age rating criteria are reached and monitored
- Enforce age rating listed in mobile app stores
- Ensure mobile apps promoted by mobile app stores match the age of the user
- Standardize age ratings to ensure consistency across mobile app stores