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Google Play Failing to Regulate Content

Daniel Boyle
6

smoking-advertisement

A study published by the Sydney Medical School of Public Health on the 29th of last month has issued a rather grave warning to both Google and Apple. To be absolutely accurate, Google in fact received the majority of the bashing. In essence, the study casts light on the extent to which the tobacco industry is utilising the new 'smartphone app medium' as a tool to indiscriminately market to minors and how the two biggest players in that arena provide less than adequate precautionary safeguards.

The study claims, not only have Google and Apple failed to employ a proper framework to safeguard their users but in addition are in violation of the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). See the section in question below.

(e) "undertake a comprehensive ban or, in the case of a Party that is not in a position to undertake a comprehensive ban due to its constitution or constitutional principles, restrict tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship on radio, television, print, media and, as appropriate, other media, such as the internet, within a period of five years."

In context, article 13 of the (WHO FCTC) details the obligations of compliant parties with regards to “tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship”. The section pasted above clearly states compliant parties are in breech of their contractual obligations should they fail to restrict the advertising of tobacco products via the sources of media listed, this includes online media sources.

The U.S signed as a participatory party in the (WHO FCTC) on 10.05.2004, meaning Google and Apple are obligated to comply. According to the study, the amount of 'pro smoking apps'...

“Any app that explicitly provided information about brands of tobacco, where to buy tobacco products, images of tobacco brands or cigarettes, and apps that might encourage smoking behaviour by providing smoking trigger cues, for example, smoking simulation apps that show a cigarette on the screen and ask the user to light it and smoke it.”

...identified in Apple's store (65) was larger than that found in Google's. However, the level of regulation employed by Apple was found to be that much more stringent. To elaborate, where Apple employs a pop up system designed to discourage potential users of unsuitable content, Google's classification system consists of a rather loose rating system of three levels: Low Maturity, Maturity and High Maturity. This begs the question, what policies are Google actually employing to regulate content unsuitable for minors in their app store?

Consider, of the 1000 results showing for smoking related keywords, 42 - English apps that met the aforementioned criteria - were identified in Google Play and were downloaded by a minimum of 6 225 786 users as of February 2012. This is accurate data in so much as is accessible to researchers. In addition, smoking apps are available under various categories. Categories that potentially expose pro smoking content to minors. Games and Entertainment are two such categories. We can only speculate the extent to which minors are in fact downloading pro smoking content as demographics data is also witheld. However, unsuitable content without safeguard ought to be enough to merit concern.

Not only do Google and Apple have a moral obligation to safeguard minors against content deemed unsuitable, but a legal obligation in addition. You would think if the moral obligation wasn't incentive enough, complying with the WHO's legislation would be. Sadly, Google has at this point failed to implement a system of regulation even close to that of their counterpart.

The concern relating to the availability of pro smoking content is undoubtedly justified but perhaps raises a more general question.

To what extent should platforms employ regulatory frameworks in the knowledge of hosting unsuitable content?

Let us know your take in the comments below!

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Comments

Write new comment:
  • Anna F. Oct 24, 2012 Link

    "Apple employs a pop up system designed to discourage potential users of unsuitable content"
    Yeah.. I have an iPod and sometimes when I download an app, a message pops up saying "To confirm you are 17 years old or older, tap OK" and I get presented with the options "OK" and "Cancel". Now tell me, how is this "discouraging"? If a kid wants to download a "pro smoking" app so badly that they actually press the download button, and then they get a message asking them to press OK if they are older than 17 and THEY KNOW APPLE HAS NO WAY OF VALIDATING THAT (!) how likely is it that they will change their mind about downloading the app? The answer is 0% and if you thought of anything else you have no idea how younger people think.

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  • Ilgaz Oct 24, 2012 Link

    Someone should remind those fascists that internet and enabled devices aren't television which you can easily censor.
    What to do? Ship better applications to teach minors, report directly to google that app is not suitable for children.
    Ask Americans why they keep freedom of speech unmodified despite all the abuse. Because, it has no end. Once you start to block content, it begins and goes worse.

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  • Patrick R. Oct 24, 2012 Link

    If you are a minor, stop reading this comment. I am having a smoke and a scotch while typing this. Sorry AndroidPIT, now the Sydney Medical School of Public Health will be coming after you because of my comment. In fairness to me though, I warned the minors to stop reading.

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  • Anna F. Oct 24, 2012 Link

    LOL @Patrick that's exactly what Apple does!! XD

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  • Paul Campbell Oct 24, 2012 Link

    While it's true Apple and Google should do more, what baffles me is why the Tobacco Industry is continually skirting the laws in targeting younger target audiences with their ads. They should be held even more accountable than either Apple or Google. Until the legal system actively cracks down on this type of infringement it will continue, after all, as long as authorities turn a blind eye, companies will continue to support the Tobacco Industry as they are a huge source of advertising revenue. What Apple & Google should do is refuse to carry such ads and the Tobacco Industry needs to be held to account, but that would be in a more perfect world. You shouldn't put the blame on the big two for generating income from this when authorities allow it but more so on the Tobacco Industry which is notorious for skirting the ban on their product, after all when was the Tobacco Industry held to account for illegally targeting minors with their ads.

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  • CJ Brown Oct 29, 2012 Link

    Its up to the Parents to police their kids from apps (if a Kid actually has access to a smart phone with a credit card to pay for an app? then I leave the responsibility wit their Parent(s) ...

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