Australia plans apps ban

10 Mar 2011

ITEM: The Australian government is proposing a legislative amendment that would give it the legal power to ban apps from application storefronts like Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Marketplace.

At the heart of the issue is the fact that Australia’s Classification Board – which applies censorship ratings (based on suitability for children) to movies and computer games – doesn’t have the same power to put such ratings on mobile apps thanks to a loophole in the regulations that excludes mobile apps because the apps are hosted outside of Australia. (Also, many apps are not classified as games.)

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor is proposing to close the loophole so that App Store, Android Marketplace and similar storefronts will be required to display ratings next to mobile game apps. The government would also be able to prosecute apps distributors for carrying any app above the MA15+ rating (currently the highest rating for legal computer games in Australia).

As for the obvious question of just how the Classification Board intended to manage the workload of evaluating and rating hundreds of thousands of apps already available (and the hundreds more coming out every month), O’Connor is proposing that only apps that generate complaints from the public over content will be reviewed and rated by the board.

The law change is still in the proposal stage – O'Connor has to secure unanimous agreement from his state and territory counterparts at a Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) meeting this July before he can take it to Parliament, the SMH reports.

But presumably Apple, Google, RIM, Nokia, Microsoft and everyone who runs an app storefront are not going to be happy with it, not least because most app stores already have self-censorship rules in place. Apple is particularly notorious for forcing developers to keep their apps family-friendly (if not always in a consistent manner), while Android Marketplace has its own internal ratings system for apps.

But app stores already have to conform with local content regulations to a degree in markets with restrictive content policies (China is an easy example, but there are many others). So in the end the Australian legislation may arguably be just another version of that.

In any case, cellcos keen to establishing their stake in the apps ecosystem via the Wholesale Application Community (WAC) should take note, because they’re not likely be exempted from apps regulations like these – although WAC’s widget/browser/cloud-based approach might force regulators to take a different approach. But rest assured they’ll have a go.

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