Group wants consistant app ratings across the board

BALTIMORE - Many smartphone apps are free and easy to download regardless of content or ratings. It's something one pediatric consultant says needs to change.

"The parents are probably not aware that the children are doing them," said Dr. Barbara Howard. "And the children are, no doubt, aware that if the parent knew that they would stop them. I think you're not safe just because you're not hearing from your child about these games."

Unlike traditional video games, some of the apps are not rated.

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The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has been rating video games for 20 years, much like the MPAA rates movies. Parents might recognize the "E" for everyone or "M" for mature players only logos on standard video game boxes. ESRB President Patricia Vance admits however that a lot has changed since the board began rating video games.  

"There's really been an explosion of devices and the nature of the games on different devices is different," Vance said.

Every video game sold at retail carries an ESRB rating, found on the front of the box. The most common rating is "E" for everyone, but the ratings for all the way up to "Adults Only" for more mature content.

"Those are incredibly helpful to parents when they are really trying to make that decision to, 'Is this okay?'" Vance said.

But she says apps have changed the game.

"Seventy-five percent of parents regularly check ESRB ratings when they purchase a game," she said. "That's not the case in a lot of these newer platforms, in part because they don't recognize the ratings. They don't even, in many cases, know that they are there."

Vance said it's up to the storefront or platform to determine what the ratings policies should be.

"Film ratings are out there, TV ratings are out there, video game ratings are out there, and have been for decades. We think that it's important, the industry thinks it's important, to provide that information to consumers. It's not a law, but it is certainly a good practice," Vance said.

She said ESRB has rated over 20,000 mobile gaming apps, most of them on Windows powered devices. But other companies like Apple and Google apply their own rating system, she said. 

"It's very much based on self reporting and there's not third party checking the accuracy," she said.

ESRB is working on an initiative that they've been developing with other game ratings boards around the world, trying to get consistency across all platforms. Vance says all devices have settings to block content based on ratings.

ABC2 reached out to companies for comment regarding their policies on app ratings. So far, we have no heard back.

Google has a set of instructions on their website on how developers can rate their own Google Play apps. They have four levels: Everyone, Low Maturity, Medium Maturity, and High Maturity. Apple also lists their ratings on their site, but they do it by numbers. Parents can go in and set restrictions on apps with certain number ratings.

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