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Does it matter that Castro doesn’t show explicit ratings?

Posted by Padraig on Jan 29, 2015

Castro was mentioned today on Libsyn’s “The Feed” podcast. A listener who hosted their own podcast had emailed a question: they were wondering whether they should be concerned that Castro doesn’t show an “explicit” rating on their episodes. Podcast feeds can indicate whether or not each episode is explicit. This allows apps to alert users about the nature of the episode. The host answered that ‘this is a problem with Castro…’. He’s right in a way, but I would like to explain why we made the decision not to show these ratings in our app.

Around February last year, I investigated how we might block access to explicit content in Castro. A parent might reasonably want to allow their child to listen only to non-explicit podcasts. No one should expect a curious teenager to willingly ignore something labelled explicit, but I remembered that iOS includes parental controls. These controls can lock down certain features of iOS, and they include the ability to restrict explicit content. I reasoned that the best way to handle this issue in Castro would be to hook into that setting and refuse to show any objectionable content while the restriction was active. Unfortunately, I discovered no way for developers to detect the state of the parental controls. I filed a bug report with Apple (Radar #16062656) in February last year but it was closed as a duplicate. There is no good way to allow parents to properly restrict inappropriate podcast episodes from within third party apps. (Update: I was wrong!)

Perhaps that is why Castro is not the only app that ignores these ratings. None of the major third party podcast apps that I tested show explicit ratings. I tried Pocket Casts, Overcast, Downcast, Instacast and PodWrangler. The one app I found that does show the ratings was Apple’s Podcasts app. In fact, it even prevents subscribing and playing these podcasts when the restrictions are active, as I had hoped Castro could. Apple’s own apps don’t have to obey the same rules as third party developers when it comes to accessing internal iOS settings.

We could still display a warning indicator, but the only situation I can see the value of implementing something like the red “E” that is displayed in Apple’s app, is where a podcast occasionally has explicit episodes. This would let listeners know that a particular episode of a usually non-explicit show was going to be different this time. In this case, I believe that the correct thing to do (as mentioned on “The Feed”) is to make this fact clear in the audio at the start of the show. It is unreasonable to expect listeners to search for a tiny “E” on every episode before they press play. A clearer, more conspicuous indicator could be used, but the vast majority of listeners will have willingly subscribed to the podcast. It would be extremely tiresome for these ordinary listeners be presented with a large warning for every episode they play.

If the facility to read the state of iOS’ parental controls is provided in future, we will return to this issue. (Update: It is provided, and we will look into it.)

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