Google is making a potentially significant change to its Play Store app marketplace, as more and more youngsters flood the smartphone and tablet market.

The search giant has announced it will stop allowing Android developers to set their own age ratings for their own apps, with an outside body, known as the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC), now making the call.

Rating Change

Until now, the Google Play Store has used the fairly rudimentary low/medium/high maturity classifications to rate the age appropriateness of their apps. But IARC promises a much different approach. Developers will have to fill in an questionnaire about how their apps function and the content it contains.

A rating is then automatically produced, but ratings can change as manual checks will be carried on the most popular apps, and those that have received complaints.

And IARC will produce different ratings for an app, depending on the geographic location. This is because the IARC group is actually made up of a number of rating bodies. This includes the Australian Classification Board, which covers Australia naturally. The Classifcacao Indicativa will cover Brazil, whereas the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) will look after North America.

To cover Europe, the Pan European Game Information (Pegi) body is included, as is the Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle from Germany.

Each of these five participants bodies will each give their own grades, taking into account local laws and different cultural sensitivities. This can mean therefore that some apps will be ranked differently depending on where in the world a user’s account is based.

If one of the rating authorities refuses to classify an app, it will not be distributed in the relevant countries.

Other Stores

The Play Store is not the only store to use the IARC rating system. Mozilla’s lesser-used Firefox Marketplace already uses its rankings, and there is talk that Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo will also climb aboard.

But that leaves an awfully large elephant in the room. Apple of course uses its own rating system for its iTunes store, and looks set to continue to use its own rating system for the foreseeable future.

Apple is widely recognised as having the toughest restrictions regarding apps, but even it gets caught out. Last year Apple settled with the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over an in-app purchases dispute. And despite the fact that it has many millions of apps in its App Store, it is swamped with countless apps that are rarely, if ever, downloaded by users.

Google Play meanwhile has also had its fair share of problems. In December 2012, Trend Micro warned that Google Play was riddled with malware, after it found 455 malicious apps on the official Android marketplace. Trend also discovered a select group of 17 rogue applications had been downloaded over 700,000 times. Some of those apps tracked users’ location, calls and messages.

Meanwhile, Android developers can reveal the details of how to submit an app via the Developer Console here.

How well do you know Google’s secrets? Find out with our quiz!

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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