Legislators Push for App Ratings Board

A bipartisan House resolution has been introduced that would call on tech and app development companies to create an app rating board as a way to help parents protect kids from "dangerous and exploitative" apps by "enforc[ing] consistent and accurate age and content ratings of apps on internet-ready devices." 

It would also call on technology companies to provide user-friendly and streamlined parental controls.  

A resolution has no force of law, but expresses the sense of Congress about what it wants to happen, sort of a "speak loudly but carry no stick" legislative effort. 

Those tech companies and app developers would have to come up with a definition of what content would trigger what rating and impose sanctions for noncompliance. 

As to parental controls, the legislators want the tech companies to: 

(A) "manufacture internet-ready devices, including iPhones, Android devices, and Chromebooks, with user-friendly parental controls; 

(B) "close loopholes that permit the bypassing of parental controls; 

(C) "build in age-based, default safety settings; and 

(D) "provide selective app shutoff for bedtime and school hours." 

It is just the latest volley from the Hill aimed at Silicon Valley. 

Introducing the bill were Reps. Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Ben McAdams (D-Utah). 

Just as parents, and he included himself, have used movie, video and music ratings to help decide safe content for their kids, Johnson said, "it’s time for Big Tech to step-up and do its part to make sure children are protected from dangerous and exploitative app content,” by supplying those parents with content ratings. "For too long, apps have been allowed to serve as hubs for bullying, pornography and other types of content that jeopardize children’s safety and well-being," he said. 

McAdams pointed to 30 online predators arrested in Salt Lake City in a four-day period last month and said parents everywhere need "accurate and complete information" about the apps their kids and access and the parental controls they can use. 

“Greater transparency and accountability in app ratings is vital in the modern digital landscape, where children are often exposed to hardcore pornography before puberty or groomed for sexual abuse or sex trafficking on apps that claim to be safe and age-appropriate," said Patrick Trueman, president of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. "The National Center on Sexual Exploitation applauds this resolution which calls on the technology community to do its part to provide accurate content and risk information."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.