Classification board seeks to censor iPhone apps

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Classification board seeks to censor iPhone apps

Call for ratings system to apply to games distributed as mobile apps.

The Australian Classification Board has written to Government expressing concerns that mobile phone applications are being made available in Australia without being subject to a ratings process.

Whilst movies and computer games are subject to ratings (G, PG, M etc) from the Classification Board, the many thousands of games released as mobile apps on smartphone platforms such as the Apple iPhone bypass the process.

"I recently wrote to the minister 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," Australia's Classification Board director Donald McDonald told a Senate Estimates committee in Canberra on Monday.

McDonald was referring to Commonwealth Censorship Minister Brendan O'Connor.

A spokesman for the Classification Board told iTnews the director of the Classification Board was "referring to mobile phone applications which are computer games".

McDonald made the comment after informing Senators that the Classification Board had recently classified online game World of Warcraft with a rating of 'M', five years after the game became available in Australia.

"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 said.

Should the Classification Board be asked to rate downloadable mobile applications, the numbers of apps available to Australians on the Apple iTunes store alone would prove overwhelming.

According to Apple, there are over 80,000 applications on its iTunes store - the platform it uses to deliver games and applications to the iPhone.

At present, Apple controls what goes on its App store. Earlier this year the company approved an application named Baby Shaker in which the object is to shake a crying baby to death.

The Baby Shaker app was removed shortly after approval and was available to Australians. Apple eventually removed the application from its iTunes store after deciding it was not appropriate.

Apps such as Baby Shaker could be prevented from entering the iTunes store in Australia if refused classification by the Classification Board.

The Classification Board told iTnews it could not speculate on whether the Baby Shaker application was indeed a game "without seeing the application in its entirety" and reaffirmed "the Board will classify films, computer games and publications upon receipt of a valid application".

Apple spokesman Fiona Martin told iTnews that the company had always adhered to Australian law and would be prepared to make any changes if required.

"We do what the Australian Classification people tell us to do," she said.

Martin said there were "no laws" governing mobile applications today. "But if there is a legal requirement within Australia to do something, absolutely we would adhere to that requirement," she said.

The Classification board said it would "apply the National Classification Code, the Classification Act, and the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer" when classifying mobile applications.

In 2008-09 the classification board received 7,036 applications. That figure included applications for classifying 4,792 films, 1,095 computer games and 197 publications.

CORRECTION - The original version of this article reported that the director of the Classification Board Donald McDonald was referring to Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy as "the minister" whom he wrote to. iTnews has since been informed that Minister McDonald was referring to Commonwealth Censorship Minister Brendan O'Connor.

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