Posts Tagged Parental Controls

The ESRB has become the de facto standard for rating the content of video games. Well, at least packaged retail games. The ESRB is trying to expand out their rating system to cover downloadable games with the new Digital Rating Service. This provides ratings for downloadable games, including mobile apps, as they integrate their system with the CTIA Mobile Apps Review System. This service will allow app developers to fill out an automated questionnaire and instantaneously receive an ESRB rating for their app. This can all be done for free, opening up the ratings system to developers of all sizes.

However, the problem is that the ESRB ratings are currently not on the App Store, and there’s no real unified rating system out there yet for mobile games. The issue going forward with widespread acceptance will be if Apple decides to integrate these ratings into the store. Right now, the App Store uses Apple’s own ratings, with information that is supplied by the developer as to the content of the app and its age-appropriateness. Apple does implement the standardized MPAA ratings and TV ratings on the iTunes Store, so it seems like Apple may be open to an integrated ratings system in theory. However, given that apps are often from independent sources, rather than through studios that have the time and ability to prepare material for rating purposes, there may be hurdles toward Apple implementing ESRB ratings on the App Store. As well, the current ratings are set up for both games and apps, instead of the games focus of the ESRB.

So, the likely scenario is that only certain games will display the ratings, likely as splash screens, and only games from large publishers traditionally associated with the console space that place value on these ratings. If the App Store doesn’t implement them as a standard, then it loses some value, as obviously seeing the rating of an app after it has already been downloaded seems somewhat useless. Only a requirement from the ESRB to display logos in screenshots for games that choose to tuse the ratings may be

However, several of the new labels could come in handy, for those that indicate if an app uses location, features interaction with other people, or shares user information. While the self-reporting nature of the ratings system will not prevent unauthorized apps from sneaking these features past users, though it may educate users more.

So while there’s potential for ESRB ratings to become a real part of the App Store, there are still many, many hurdles for it to become widespread.

A little-known feature of iOS is parental controls, known as Restrictions. With this feature, it’s possible to set an iOS device to block off certain functions, secured by 4-digit passcode.

Why use Restrictions? This is not just because of the potential for minors to view content that is not appropriate for their age. This is also because of the rise of free-to-play games. Many of these games have expensive in-app purchases, and children who may have access to a credit card connected to an iTunes account may wind up buying thousands of dollars of in-game items, not knowing they are spending real-world items.

So, let’s get started with enabling Restrictions on iOS. Screenshots below are from the iPad, but the steps are identical on the iPhone and iPod touch.

Open up Settings. Tap on General. Tap on Restrictions.

Tap on Enable Restrictions to pull up a password prompt. Enter a custom 4-digit code that will be used to access the Restrictions in the future. The device will prompt to re-enter this password when setting it.

The first section is for disabling certain system apps and features, including disabling installation and deletion of apps. Sadly, Stocks can’t be disabled on the iPhone/iPod touch using Restrictions.

Next is the Location Settings controls. This makes it possible to enable and disable location access on a per-app basis. As well, way at the bottom of this list is the System Services section. This makes it possible to disable some system functions that have access to location, and to be notified when a system service tries to access location.

Next are the content settings. This makes it possible to disable the playback of explicit music, to disallow movies of a certain MPAA rating, and to disallow TV shows with a certain rating. Note that only an upper limit can be set, despite it looking like certain ratings can be disabled – no way to make only TV-MA shows appear on iTunes!

Most importantly for those worried about in-app purchases, these can be disabled entirely. As well, it’s possible to make any iTunes purchases require that the password be put in immediately, instead of having the usual 15-minute period where it doesn’t need to be re-entered. As well, it’s possible to set restrictions on Game Center games, disabling multiplayer and the ability to add friends.

To disable restrictions, just tap the Disable Restrictions button at the top and enter the passcode set earlier.

Note that as of iOS 5.1, all Restrictions settings reset when they are disabled. As such, this is not a good a way to let little Billy or Billie play with mommy or daddy’s iPhone, but to set up a device that they can safely use without being able to view explicit content, spend money, or mess up important settings.

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