Winnipeg, Canada — A child safety analysis of the two largest mobile app stores has found the platforms have easy‑to‑bypass age restrictions, inconsistent enforcement of app age ratings, and largely unsuitable age ratings. These findings, among many others, published today by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P) raise significant concerns for the protection of children/youth online, and for families who use age ratings to gauge safety.
C3P analysts looked at app age rating enforcement for two age groups: children under 13, and youth 13‑17. The results showed notable safety shortfalls in both Apple and Google’s mobile app stores, including an inconsistency in enforcement, lack of consistency in age ratings across both stores (and the app’s actual terms of service), chatroulette‑style apps being widely available despite Apple publicly stating it would remove these type of apps, and promoted apps being shown to children and youth that are rated older than the age associated with the user’s account.
C3P analysts also found the term age rating in itself to be misleading. While it would appear to connect to the age when a child can safely use a particular app, it is in fact based on the content the app developer claims you can expect to see in the app.
“Apple and Google are placing the responsibility solely on parents to determine what is safe for their family, yet parents are not offered useful information, leaving them with the incorrect impression that the risk to their child is limited or even non‑existent,” says Lianna McDonald, Executive Director of C3P.
These gaps in protection have the most profound impact on youth 13+, who are considered “adults” online with the ability to easily access adult-only content, mingle with strangers, and interact in spaces with little to none of the safeguards that exist offline for their age.
“Liquor stores are not allowed to look the other way when someone underage tries to buy beer; tech should not be permitted to hand off their duty to protect children online to parents, or the youth themselves. Tech companies, especially those who have publicly committed to safeguarding children, such as Apple and Google have, need to shoulder their share of the responsibility,” says McDonald.
Stemming from these findings, C3P has four recommendations that could be voluntarily adopted by mobile app stores, or mandated by governments, to increase the online 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
To read the full report findings and recommendations, visit protectchildren.ca/ageratingMedia relations contact:
1 (204) 560-0723