4 Tips on choosing the right app from the ESRB

 esrb sealLast week, Dona Fraser the Vice President of ESRB Privacy Certified explained the new COPPA rules. This week, we continue our conversation with some tips for how parents can help their kids choose the right apps.

KidsPrivacy: Will the new COPPA rules include apps like Instagram or Vine that currently restricts to users to over 13?

 Dona Fraser: Many websites and apps use a minimum age in their terms of service. COPPA compliance, however, is required for any online service that is deemed to be “directed to children,” or even in some cases where an app is directed to an audience that is a mix of kids and adults. There are a series of criteria that determine whether an online service is directed to children, but it essentially boils down to whether or not children are the primary target audience.

KP: For these apps outside of COPPA, what tools & tips does the ESRB have to help families decide if an app is appropriate for their child?

DF: Here are four things parents should keep in mind about managing their kids’ apps:

  1.  Check the rating. Parents can check an app’s age rating within the storefront it is purchased (it is usually listed on its detail page) but they can also look up information about apps by using the ESRB website or our free mobile app. ESRB recently expanded its rating system to add information that goes beyond content. Now apps can also be assigned notices, called Interactive Elements, that indicate if a game shares the user’s location with other users (“Shares Location”), shares user-provided personal information with third parties (“Shares Info”), or if users can interact with other users or may be exposed to user-generated content (“Users Interact”).
  2. Check the privacy policy. Just like websites, apps that collect information from users must have a privacy policy that explains what information is collected, how it’s used, and with whom it’s shared. Review these policies to make sure you are comfortable with the information that is collected. It is also worth noting that the mobile industry is currently exploring what are called “short form” privacy notices, which are much more reader-friendly versions of privacy notices that tell parents exactly what they need to know without all the legalese.
  3.  Set restrictions. Many devices like smartphones and tablets allow parents to restrict access to certain apps and features. For instance, you can block the child from downloading apps that are above a certain age rating or ones that allow the user to make purchases from within the app. Explore your device’s settings and set these restrictions based on what you feel is appropriate for your child.
  4. Be hands-on. No tool can ever replace being involved. Check out what apps your child is downloading and using, and talk to them about what the apps do and why they find them fun or useful. Apps are tools and tools can be used for good and bad. Making sure your child is supervised and educated about what is appropriate is critical.

For more information about the ESRB and their tools for parents check out: