Censorship of Mobile Apps and Games

Posted in #openinternet by skepdadblog on August 16, 2010
Tags: , , ,

The ALP has decided to tighten the noose on mobile content.  The current state of play is that mobile games and apps are effectively exempt from content rating, which applies to movies, commercial games, physically distributed print media and music; and the ALP just can’t let that stand.

Insisting that every game or app provider wishing to make content available to Australians must submit their app to ACMA (incurring a hefty fee in the process) is pretty shortsighted, given the huge numbers, the budgets involved and the inconsistency of applying these rules to mobile downloads only.

Perhaps the architects of this policy have never heard of the internet.  Because anyone who has used the internet for more than five minutes knows that there are huge numbers of things, free and otherwise, that can be downloaded for local consumption – whether that be for mobile or more traditional PC/Mac/*nix platforms – and just as much consumable directly in a browser.  Look at Facebook apps/games as just one example.  How can the ALP decide to regulate the iPhone Lightsaber app, but not Farmville?  Android games, but not Flash games?  What about podcasts?  What about playing Truth or Fail on YouTube?

The policymakers need to understand that media is shifting away from high-budget boxed product (cinema movies, DVDs, CDs, boxed games) to more agile models where budgets are often tiny and prices are often zero.  Content is often provided for no commercial gain, but purely for the thrill of producing something that others might enjoy.  The Internet is essentially unregulatable (despite the ALP’s best efforts) and any attempt to regulate or censor it is always going to be full of fail.  If it’s not sold in a box in a store, or distributed in a physical Australian venue, or broadcast on a regulated tv spectrum, content rating cannot be pragmatically enforced by Australian beaurocrats no matter how many Family First preferences depend on it.

Don’t get me wrong – I agree with parental advisories and content rating.  They are a useful guideline for those parents who actually bother to take an interest in what their kids are consuming.  They are a different thing however to censorship, which I have covered in detail on this blog and elsewhere; and they are subject to the laws of reality and the tyrannies of scale.

Whether you are a strident pro-censorship protectionist buffoon, a passionate anti-regulation liberal anarchist, or anywhere along the line between, you simply can’t deny that the pure volume of content and the cost models involved preclude individual centralised proactive classification.

The only model that can work is one where content vendors have incentive to adhere to voluntary content advisories, and this is backed up by a complaints-based mechanism of review.  By engaging with industry (a foreign concept to the autocrats in the ALP, I know) the Government can negotiate in the interests of children and consumers without wasting time and money on blinkered, piecemeal and unrealistic white elephants.

ACMA has a future as a watchdog, to be let off the chain where breaches of classification guidelines are reported.  It does not have one as a bouncer, separating consumers and content until a protectionist burden of proof is satisfied.


3 Responses to 'Censorship of Mobile Apps and Games'

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  1. skepdadblog said,

    @NewtonMark quite correctly points out that voluntary content rating backed up by complaints-based regulatory action is already in place. I agree, though I believe it could be easier for consumers, more pervasive and smarter.

    For those who have invited me to put my money where my mouth is and propose a way forward, I give you here my first course of action should I (as unlikely as this may be) be appointed Minister for DBCDE:

    I would assemble representatives from IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and other major browsers as well as guardians of the HTML standard from the W3C or similar. We would work towards agreeing on implementing localised (by nation), crowdsourced content rating for websites. My vision is that every browser would have a localised content rating for each URL somewhere prominent in the toolbar, which would give weight to a) the website host’s elective content rating, b) government advisories, both local and international, and c) crowdsourced ratings. We could customise our browsers to react to those advisories, so that for instance we could set our kids’ browsers to block any content rated above PG, or our work browsers to reject content rated M or above, etc. I imagine Google would leap at the chance of maintaining the rating data. This could in effect act as a proxy filter, with the ability to set our browsers to reject content rated as RC if we desired.

    I would assemble mobile app API providers (e.g. Android and iPhone) to modify their APIs to include compatible and consistent voluntary content rating as part of the app development process. They should also provide crowdsourced content ratings in the app and in the app stores, similar to what iTunes already does in its iTunes Store.

    I would assemble representatives from major high-traffic sites, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, FourSquare etc, as well as content framework/CMS providers such as WordPress, Posterous, Blogger, Joomla etc, to implement compatible and consistent crowdsourced content rating on individual posts and content items as part of their core product.

    All of this would be done with openness and involvement from other nations, in the interest of providing informed choice, not censorship.


    • Lord Scarab said,

      Sounds like a good plan, I am all for ratings myself but the government doesn’t appear concerned with informing, rather they wish to censor and control.
      I doubt you could get the government interested in such a plan, they want to appear tough on “deviant” behaviour for the benefit of special interest groups. The majority of the population I am afraid just doesn’t care enough

  2. […] issue here, as skepdad pointed out on his blog post on the topic, is that mobile apps are not all made by big business. In fact on the android platform alone over […]

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