An investigation has allegedly discovered dozens of Google Play games that are being sold as being suitable for children but in fact contain inappropriate content, including gambling, violence, and microtransactions.
The investigation – undertaken by Wired – identified a series of wholly unsuitable games that have one thing in common – the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC).
While physical games are issued ratings by Pegi (Pan European Game Information) in Europe, digital-only releases are assessed via a questionnaire from the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC). Developers are trusted to fill this questionnaire “in good faith” when submitting their app or game, but Google does not check the veracity of these ratings unless the app is submitted via the separate Designed for Families scheme.
“Given the high volume of published games and apps, participating rating authorities are not able to monitor every single release,” an IARC representative told Wired.
“The Play Store is full of apps that defy Google’s age rating policy and filtering tools,” Wired reported. “Some of these games have been installed millions of times. After we sent Google a sample of 36 games with inappropriate content for their ratings and a further 16 with other forms of dubious content and permissions, including some which tracked the location of users, 16 games have so far either been entirely removed or re-released with revised ratings and permissions.”
“When we find that an app has violated our policies, we remove it from Google Play,” a Google spokesperson told Wired. “We want children to be safe online and we work hard to help protect them.”
Google had to pull 13 driving games from its Google Play store last November after it was revealed they contained malware. Malware and security researcher Lukas Stefanko reported on Twitter that combined, the 13 apps – all credited to a developer called Luiz O. Pinto – had been downloaded 560,000+ times. Two of the apps were trending at the time they were withdrawn from the storefront.
Once the game launches for the first time, it hid its own icon then downloads additional Android Package Kits, one of which is called “Game Center”, asking the user’s permission to install. Once it’s on the device, it hides itself and displays ads whenever the device is unlocked.