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Deceptive Age Ratings Appear on Apple App Store, Report Finds

Photo by Laurenz Heymann via Unsplash

Deceptive Age Ratings Appear on Apple App Store, Report Finds

By Movieguide® Contributor

Many parents rely on the Apple App Store age rating system to protect their children from harm, but many ratings are deceitful and fail to reflect the harmful content that the app may hold.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) “documented dangers and risky features on apps such as easy exposure to and connections with adults (and therefore predators), pornography other sexually explicit content, illegal drug activity, and potential financial sextortion are not included in the current app descriptions.”

In a letter to the tech giant, NCOSE explained, “Apple tells caregivers they ‘should never have to worry about inappropriate content’ in the App Store, and stresses that its age-rating system is there ‘so parents can determine what is appropriate for their children.’ Sadly, the App Store’s age-ratings don’t deliver on that promise.”

Apple’s irresponsibility enables apps with this kind of content to receive a rating that says it is suitable for children. This makes it harder for parents to monitor what their kids are seeing and allows content of this nature to bypass parental controls meant to block it.

Apple’s age rating system is one of the key components that triggers parental control blocks as many apps are blocked solely based on their age rating.

Furthermore, in-app advertisements can expose children to potentially harmful content on an otherwise safe app. “These include kink and hookup apps, ‘chatroulette’ apps that pair random strangers together to chat over webcam, advertisements that reference drugs and gambling, and more,” NCOSE said.

The appearance of these ads on apps rated as suitable for children is especially concerning as it breaks Apple’s Developer Guidelines.

While the App Store’s rating system may be an unreliable source for parents, it is not the only option. NCOSE encourages parents to research apps using the App Danger Project, an initiative that increases the visibility of reviews that discuss the safety of an app.

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection recommends the App Store make four changes to improve child safety: “Provide transparent information on how app age rating criteria are reached and monitored…Enforce age ratings listed in mobile app stores…Ensure apps promoted by mobile app stores match the age of the user…[and] Standardize age ratings to ensure consistency across app stores.”

Movieguide® previously reported:

 The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) recently released its 2023 ‘Dirty Dozen’ list. 

“The Dirty Dozen List is an annual campaign calling out twelve mainstream entities for facilitating or profiting from sexual abuse and exploitation,” the NCOSE explained

Additionally, the Dirty Dozen List is an activism tool enabling large-scale change. The list provides tangible steps that can be taken to hold companies accountable such as emailing legislators, signing petitions to corporate executives, and pre-crafted social media messages. 

Apple App Store: 

“Deceptive to the core: Apple App Store age ratings and descriptions mislead parents about the content, risks, and dangers to children on available apps. When caregivers aren’t informed, kids pay the price.


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