Net classification costly: Telstra, RIM

Classifying all games and movies for mobile phones and the internet will be too costly and inefficient, according to Telstra and BlackBerry creator Research In Motion (RIM) submissions to a government inquiry.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Classifying all games and movies for mobile phones and the internet will be too costly and inefficient, according to Telstra and BlackBerry creator Research In Motion (RIM) submissions to a government inquiry.

In its submission to an inquiry into the Australian film and literature classification scheme, RIM argued that the rules governing game classification for mobile phones needed to be reviewed. RIM explained that if even a quarter of the 500,000 mobile apps available today were submitted to the Classification Board for review, the board would face a 1600 per cent increase in the number of applications it receives. This would put a strain on the board's finite resources, RIM said.

"Put simply, too many resources would be devoted to classifying material for mobile phone games that by their nature and design are inoffensive. In turn, this would create a practical constraint on the board's ability to properly classify and monitor material that genuinely concerns the broader community," the company said in its submission.

RIM has proposed an alternative approach where games that developers believe would not be classified above MA15+ would be exempt from classification by the regulator, with the onus on the developer to apply the relevant rating for such games. If there was any doubt about the classification of the game, the Classifications Review Board could review the game.

Another solution, according to RIM, would be to remove classifications altogether and rely simply on users reporting content they believe to be inappropriate to the regulator.

"The challenge for mobile games classification lies between the laws as they stand, and the technology as it grows," RIM said. "RIM believes that a practical solution can be developed to deal with the unintended consequences of these laws which have not kept up with technology."

Telstra also advocated a self-review scheme in its submission. Telstra said the current arrangements for internet content were appropriate and were "working well" to protect children from being exposed to offensive material. Telstra said it had not received complaints for its self-classification system for BigPond content that was reviewed by Telstra's own content assessors.

Classifying all online content would prove costly and would only serve to force Australian content providers out of the market, allowing overseas content owners to dominate, Telstra warned.

"As a nascent industry providing highly niche content, the economics of the provision of online content are very different to that of publishing, film or television. In fact, given the costs of preparing a formal classification application and the scale of the classification fees charged by the Classification Board ($810 to $2040 per assessment plus), it is likely that requiring large-scale formal classification by the Classification Board would make the provision of most online content by Australian providers uneconomic," the telco said.

It argued that if such a system was brought in, it would ultimately place Australian content providers at a competitive disadvantage to their overseas counterparts who would not be subject to the same classification obligations.

RIM's proposal is similar to that flagged by Home Minister Brendan O'Connor last week. O'Connor revealed in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald that the Federal Government has intentions to bring in a system for the iTunes app store where users complain to the regulator about content they believe is inappropriate. That content is then reviewed to determine a rating.

Conservative religious lobbies have led the push for increased scrutiny of mobile phone applications and games by content regulators. The Australian Christian Lobby has proposed that guidelines be established for developers to classify their own games while the Salt Shakers have called for all mobile phone applications to be subject to classification.

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