Classification Board takes aim at iPhone, smartphone mobile apps

The Australian Classification Board recently expressed its concern over the availability of unclassified applications for the iPhone and smartphones

First- and third-party applications available for download on the iPhone and other smartphones may need to be submitted for classification, according to Donald McDonald, director of the Australian Classification Board.

McDonald told a Senate Estimates committee for Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation on 19 October that the board was concerned about mobile phone applications being released without official classification.

"On another aspect of computer games, I recently wrote to the minister [Brendan O'Connor] regarding my concern that some so- called mobile phone applications, which can be purchased online or either downloaded to mobile phones or played online via mobile phone access, are not being submitted to the board for classification," McDonald told the committee. Classification Operations Branch spokesperson Jessica Coombs told PC World that the letter had been submitted to O'Connor, who is the Commonwealth Censorship Minister, on 2 October.

McDonald raised the concern after noting that the Classification Board had recently given the popular MMORPG game World of Warcraft an M rating.

“While this is not the first online game to be classified by the board, World of Warcraft is arguably the most popular online game in the world, and the fact that it was not classified attracted industry and media interest,” McDonald stated. “The classification act does not exclude online games from the definition of computer games. The board must classify a computer game, including one with online content, upon receipt of a valid application.”

Mobile phone applications have a variety of purposes including improving smartphone functionality and productivity. However, the Classification Board's concern is primarily regarding games for mobile phones. These games are generally available through platforms such as Apple's App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Google, Microsoft, Research in Motion and Palm all provide similar platforms for their respective smartphone platforms.

Apple provides country-specific classifications for movies and TV shows available through its iTunes Store, and it recently introduced a four-tier classification scheme for its App Store. All applications are classified by Apple using this scheme, but users must turn on restrictions in iTunes and the iPhone and iPod Touch in order to lock out material.

Coombs told PC World that the Classification Board would classify computer games regardless of parental controls put in place by the company.

Apple says that there are more than 85,000 apps available in the store and that it has sold over 2 billion apps since it opened. Not all of these are available on the Australian App Store, however, and only a small portion of these are games. Apple has recently begun marketing its popular iPod Touch personal media player as a portable game console.

The App Store has faced several controversies since its inception, including an uproar over a third-party application that encouraged users to shake the phone in order to stop a virtual baby from crying. iTnews reported that Apple had approved the app for sale on the App Store, but removed it shortly afterwards.

More recently, PepsiCo's "AMP UP Before you Score" app was branded sexist and inappropriate by iPhone users, resulting in an apology on the Twitter profile of PepsiCo's energy drink subsidiary, Amp Energy. The app has since been voluntarily removed by PepsiCo from the App Store.

Follow PC World Australia on Twitter: @PCWorldAu

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