Mainstream Contributors To Sexual Exploitation

Deceptive to the Core

Apple App Store age ratings and descriptions mislead parents about the content, risks, and dangers to children on available apps. When caregivers aren’t informed, kids pay the price.

Updated on 9/19/2023: Our contacts at Apple reached out to let us know about major improvements to their nudity blurring feature that NCOSE has been asking for and advising Apple about since the feature was originally announced nearly two years ago. Beginning September 18, 2023, with the iOS17 update,  images and videos containing nudity will be automatically blurred for kids 12 and under in iMessage, FaceTime, Air Drop, and Photos picker—a feature that previously had to be turned on by parents, was unavailable to anyone over 13, only detected still images, and only worked in iMessage. This tool will also be available for teens and adults as an opt-in feature. Additionally, Apple has already made their blurring technology available to other apps for free through API (application programming interface)! What this means is that apps accessed through iOS could apply the nudity blurring feature to their platform. You can read our press release on Apple’s changes for more details!

*While not a focus of the DDL, NCOSE is deeply concerned and disappointed that Apple does not scan for child sex abuse material (CSAM). We’ve been pressing on Apple for years to do so, most recently together with a coalition of child safety experts.

With almost 90% of US teens owning an iPhone, Apple can rightly be called a primary “gatekeeper” to what America’s children are accessing online…as well as who is accessing them. Caregivers trust and rely on Apple’s App Store age ratings and descriptions to determine what apps are safe and appropriate for their children to use. App age ratings also “trigger” several aspects of Apple’s parental controls (called Screen Time), blocking entire apps or content based on the designated age.

Yet at a time when child safety experts and mental health professionals – including the United States Surgeon General – are sounding the alarm that our kids are in crisis due in large part to social media, Apple’s app descriptions remain vague, hidden, and inconsistent: further jeopardizing our already-at-risk children.

Example of explicit content accessed on apps rates 12+ in the Apple App Store. 

Documented dangers on apps such as risky features, exposure to adult strangers (including predators), harmful content, illegal drug activity, concerns about healthy child development, easy access to explicit content, and most recently, an explosion of financial sextortion are not included in the current app descriptions. Even the social media and gaming apps that have been exposed as particularly rife with predatory activity, sexual interactions, and pornographic content (videos, images, language) are labeled 12+ for “infrequent or mild mature or suggestive themes” and “infrequent mild language.” US federal law requires children to be at least 13 years old to use social media and games not specifically designed for youth.

Furthermore, despite knowing the age of the account holder (based on Apple ID), Apple App Store suggests and promotes sex-themed 17+ apps to children apps (including kink, hookup, adult dating, and “chatroulette” apps that pair random users) which they can download by clicking a box noting they are 17+. Apple does not enforce its own Developer Guidelines, which state that ads must be appropriate for the app’s age rating, exposing children to mature in-app advertisements that reference gambling, drugs, and sexual role-play for apps rated 17+, even when the app is rated 9+ or 12+. And there is no system in place to report apps that fail to adequately explain the types of content a user might experience.

With Apple’s near limitless resources, there can be no excuse for the deception of consumers, of caregivers on such a massive scale: It’s time Apple finally fixes its app rating system.

Review the proof we’ve collected, read our recommendations for improvement, and see our notification letter to Apple for more details.

See our Notification Letter to Apple here.

Take Action

Our Requests for Improvement

Proof

Evidence of Exploitation

WARNING: Any pornographic images have been blurred, but are still suggestive. There may also be graphic text descriptions shown in these sections. POSSIBLE TRIGGER.

App Ratings Report by Canadian Centre on Child Protection

App Ratings Report by Canadian Centre on Child Protection

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US Attorneys General Demanding Apple Change TikTok Age Rating from 12+ to 17+

US Attorneys General Demanding Apple Change TikTok Age Rating from 12+ to 17+

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Letters to Apple re: Critical Fixes to Protect Children

Letters to Apple re: Critical Fixes to Protect Children

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Letter to 50 US Attorneys General re: App Ratings

Letter to 50 US Attorneys General re. app ratings

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Concerns and Reviews of Caregivers About Apple App Ratings

Concerns and Reviews of Caregivers About Apple App Ratings

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Fast Facts

87% of US teens own an iPhone; 88% expect an iPhone to be their next phone

Two in three parents consider an app’s age rating when deciding whether it is appropriate and safe for their child

App Age Ratings are a critical “trigger” for Apple’s parental controls (Screen Time); the ability for children to download or use certain apps or view content are often based on the app age rating

The App Store promotes and suggests sex-themed 17+ apps to children and teen accounts that minors are able to download by clicking a pop-up box affirming they are of age – despite Apple knowing their birthday on the account

Chatroulette-style apps like Omegle that pair users with strangers are available in Apple’s App Store, despite Apple making them subject to removal from their store in 2010; these apps are known to be swamped with sexual predators

More Actions You Can Take TODAY

  Ask Your AG to Hold Apple App Store Accountable

Learn more at FixAppRatings.com

Don’t trust Apple App Store or Google Play app ratings; Review apps at Protect Young Eyes

Similar to Apple App Store

Google Play

Google Play has the same deceptive app age ratings and descriptions and must also change. NCOSE is prioritizing Apple App Store given that nearly 90% of US teens own an iPhone and that iOS consistently holds the vast majority of app market share. In 2022, iOS was responsible for 75% of consumer spending on apps and 77% of all app subscription revenue bringing in $36.3 and $13.2 billion respectively.

Updates

Stay up-to-date with the latest news and additional resources

Recommended Resources

Apple and Google app stores ‘should have same legal duties as corner shops’

The tech giants are accused at Westminster of having behaving with ‘an air of exceptionalism’ - Read this article from Yahoo! Finance

Apple, Google questioned by ICO over app age ratings after UK child safety charity raises concerns

Watch or read Protect Young Eyes CEO Chris McKenna’s Congressional testimony about deceptive app ratings

Apple, Google questioned by ICO over app age ratings after UK child safety charity raises concerns

The tech giants are accused at Westminster of having behaving with ‘an air of exceptionalism’ - Read this article from Yahoo! Finance

Review Key Findings of "Reviewing the Enforcement of App Age Ratings in Apple’s App Store and Google Play"

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