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[FYI] (Fwd) FC: Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo endorse self-rating system at

------- Forwarded message follows -------
Date sent:      	Tue, 23 Oct 2001 10:42:06 -0400
From:           	Declan McCullagh <declan@well.com>
To:             	politech@politechbot.com
Subject:        	FC: Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo endorse self-rating system at event today
Send reply to:  	declan@well.com

This self-rating idea was silly enough when it surfaced circa 1997,
and most of us thought it died a natural death. But no, silly ideas in
politics never do -- they devolve into trade associations instead.

Now that the war against Afghanistan is under way, I started to wonder
if whitehouse.gov, the Pentagon's websites, and news articles about
the conflict (or the WTC body search) should be blocked under these
ICRA categories:
   Material Setting Bad Example For Young Children
   Material That Might Disturb Young Children
   Promotion of Weapon Use
   Promotion of Harm Against People

Yahoo is listed below as one of the ICRA chief sponsors. Yahoo also
has a news area. Those pages are rated with ICRA/RSACi and listed as
"n 0 s 0 v 0" -- which I take to mean no nudity, sex, or violence.

I went through the ICRA rating process myself
(http://www.rsac.org/_en/register/en_p1.cfm) and rated a hypothetical
news site that has been covering the WTC body search and the war in
Afghanistan. I answered yes to these questions:

  Please indicate which of the following appears on your site, in
  images, portrayals or descriptions:
    Blood and gore, human beings
    Killing of human beings
    Deliberate injury to human beings
    Deliberate damage to objects
    appears in a context intended to be educational and is suitable
    for young children
    Promotion of weapon use
    Promotion of discrimination or harm against people
    Material that might be perceived as setting a bad example for
    young children Material that might disturb young children

I received a rating of:
  Error Occurred While Processing Request
  [Microsoft][ODBC SQL Server Driver][SQL Server]Database 'ICRA_1' is
  already open and can only have one user at a time. SQL = "SELECT
  Country FROM Country WHERE Country_ID = 230"

Ah, that can't be right. Guess ICRA was using Microsoft (another
sponsor) products. I tried a few more times, and eventually the SQL
server sufficiently recovered from its woes to spit out a rating of "n
0 s 0 v 4," which I take to mean no sex or nudity, but plenty of

Let's see. Yahoo has signed a legally binding contract
(http://www.icra.org/_en/en_legal.html) that says its self-rating
"must at all times reflect accurately the content it describes." Sure
looks to me that Yahoo has not properly labeled. I wonder if ICRA --
which as a trade association likely depends in part on Yahoo's
financial contributions -- will threaten legal action if Yahoo doesn't
rate its sites properly.


PS: Background:

Links to documents from today's announcement:



   October 23, 2001 CONTACT: 
   Katie Barron (202) 585.0230

         Internet Industry Unveils Uniform Content Labeling System
          The Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA) launches
             North American Campaign to Protect Children Online

   Washington, DC - In an unparalleled display of public-private
   partnership, the three most trafficked Internet destinations AOL,
   MSN and Yahoo! have adopted the Internet Content Rating Association
   [ICRA] content labeling system with broad support from children's
   advocates and the First Amendment community. Launched today in
   North America and available globally, the free ICRA system allows
   content providers to identify and label their websites using
   neutral descriptors that empower parents from all cultures to
   filter Internet content based on their individual values. Content
   providers such as Playboy.com have also self-labeled their sites.
   Today, ICRA kicked off a campaign to urge others to join the

   The ICRA labeling campaign showcases how private companies -
   particularly technology companies - are teaming up and working
   toward creating safe havens for children, while preserving the
   rights of free expression. This unprecedented gathering
   demonstrates new market trends to promote corporate responsibility
   and online safety.

   ICRA is a global non-profit organization of Internet industry
   leaders committed to making the Internet safer for children while
   respecting the rights of content providers.

   "Protecting children has always been one of AOL's highest
   priorities, which is why the AOL service includes some of the of
   the industry's strongest parental controls and why we're proud to
   support ICRA in its efforts," said Elizabeth Frazee, vice president
   of public policy for AOL Time Warner. "We think it's important for
   every web property - large and small - to use ICRA's system to help
   ensure children have safe and age-appropriate experience online,
   and we're pleased to stand behind that commitment by labeling our
   AOL sites. We commend ICRA for its ongoing efforts and look forward
   to continuing to work together to strengthen the online medium."

   "Creating safer places for children to use the Internet has long
   been a part of the overall experience Yahoo! provides, and working
   with the industry to develop the ICRA standard and labeling
   protocol is just the next step in our efforts. We are pleased to
   give Internet users a way to customize their experience and
   maintain their ability to have maximum choice in defining how they
   use the Web. As the Internet continues to grow and increasingly
   becomes an essential part of everyone's daily lives, it is
   important that we focus on providing tools for families, like the
   ICRA label, to create the best experience on the Web," said Srinija
   Srinivasan, vice president and editor in chief, Yahoo!.

   "Microsoft shares the goal of creating an online environment in
   which children can learn, explore, and have fun without exposure to
   the many things that can harm them. We first integrated the ICRA
   system in Internet Explorer in 1996, and we remain committed to
   providing the child safety services and tools that parents demand,"
   said Bill Guidera, federal government affairs associate.

   The ICRA labeling system offers content providers an online
   questionnaire to help define and describe the content available on
   their site. ICRA then generates a content label (a meta tag) that
   the author adds to his or her site. Users can then set-up their
   Internet browser or compatible filtering software to allow or
   disallow access to websites based on the information declared in
   the label and the subjective preferences of the user.

   "Labeling and filtering of Internet content that is truly voluntary
   is an approach that empowers parents and respects our fundamental
   commitment to free expression," said Bob Corn-Revere, noted First
   Amendment attorney for Hogan and Hartson in Washington, DC.

   "The magnitude and level of support from all of our members and
   invited guests is stunning," said Mary Lou Kenny, director of North
   America. "The overwhelming response demonstrates the value of a
   voluntary self-labeling system that is about choice - not
   censorship - on the Internet. ICRA is a win/win solution. Content
   providers sustain the integrity of their websites and parents make
   choices for their children. The strength of these otherwise
   disparate groups coming together will forever change the perception
   of online protection for children."

   For more information go to: www.icra.org.




   What is ICRA? 
   The Internet Content Rating Association is a global non-profit
   organization of Internet industry leaders committed to making the
   Internet safer for children while respecting the rights of content
   providers. The ICRA system allows content providers to identify and
   label their websites using neutral descriptors that empower parents
   from all cultures to filter Internet content based on their
   individual values.

   The ICRA content labeling system builds on the pre-existing RSACi
   system and is the result of an extensive international consultation
   exercise involving senior industry figures and academics.

   What is RSACi? 
   The initials stand for The Recreational Software Advisory Council
   on the Internet. The RSACi message was to empower the public,
   especially parents, to make informed decisions about electronic
   media through labeling of video games and later, web sites.

   The RSACi system provided consumers with information about the
   level of sex, nudity, violence, offensive language (vulgar or
   hate-motivated) in software games and websites. The RSACi system
   was integrated into Microsoft's Internet Explorer, MicroSystem's
   Cyber Patrol Software and Netscape Navigator.

   RSACi was formally folded into ICRA in the spring of 1999 and its
   system was launched with ICRA in December 2000. The new ICRA system
   is compatible with RSACi.

   What exactly does ICRA do?
   ICRA labels websites, for viewer discretion. ICRA does not rate
   Internet content. Content providers do that, using the ICRA system.
   ICRA makes no value judgments about which sites are suitable for
   children. Parents and other concerned adults do that using the
   tools available to them from ICRA.

   What is the basic procedure?
   Content providers fill out an online questionnaire describing the
   content of their site, in terms of what is and is not present. ICRA
   then generates a content label (a meta tag) that the author adds to
   his/her site. Users can then set their Internet browser or filter
   to allow or disallow access to content based on the information
   declared in the label and the subjective preferences of the user.

     * Parents set filtering preferences or categories in content
       controls in their browser or filter;

     * The browser/filter reads the label and compares it to the user
       chosen as their settings;

     * The label identifies whether the site contains content that
       not match user settings;

     * If the site is blocked, a dialogue box appears on the user's
       screen advising that the site has been blocked.

   It is free to rate and free to filter with the ICRA system?
   Yes, it is free to parents and those that label. ICRA is a
   non-profit organization and sustains itself through membership.

   What are the filtering categories?

   Topics Covered: 
   Language used on the site
   Nudity and sexual content
   Drugs, tobacco, alcohol
   ....and others

   Context variables are included to distinguish sites that have
   educational, artistic, or medical content.

   What is a filtering template?
   A template is a set of pre-configured options that reduce the need
   for user decision points and reflects the values of the template
   provider. A quick and easy route to filtering based on the ICRA
   Descriptors - which include some, but not all of the following:

   Crude Words or Profanity
   Male Genitals
   Female Genitals
   Material Setting Bad Example For Young Children
   Material That Might Disturb Young Children
   Blood & Gore, Animals
   Blood & Gore, Fantasy Animals
   Obscured or Implied Sexual Acts
   Promotion of Tobacco Use
   Promotion of Alcohol Use
   Promotion of drug Use
   Promotion of Weapon Use
   Promotion of Harm Against People
   These descriptors express the values of the template provider.
   Templates may also include block and allow lists of web sites,
   which may be encrypted.

   How do I use the ICRA system in my browser? 
   When released in spring 2002, the ICRAfilter will work on all
   versions of Windows from '95 upward and operates independently of
   any browser. The ICRA filter will also support "allow" and
   "disallow" lists. In addition to a user's self-created allow and
   disallow list, lists from third parties can be downloaded and

   The number of applications available to filter Internet content
   using ICRA's labels is growing. The most widely used of these today
   is Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

   What will stop an adult site from completing the questionnaire in a
   way that indicates no nudity is on the site? Before a web master
   receives his/her meta tag, they must accept the terms and
   conditions of the system. Ultimately, these would empower ICRA to
   take legal action and to publicize the errant site. However, adult
   sites are ICRA's strongest supporters. It is ICRA's experience that
   when a content provider chooses to self-label its site; it is done
   in an honest and objective manner. Adult content sites don't want
   kids visiting their sites. Children have no legitimate purchasing
   power; visits would clog bandwidth, and expose children to
   inappropriate material and would invite government regulation.

   How do you enforce the sanctity of the label? 
   Automated checks are made that the label held in the database is
   present on the relevant site. If it's not, ICRA makes contact with
   the web master - usually to offer help and advice. If a site is
   mislabeled (an extremely rare event) then further steps can be
   taken (see above).

   What if a site deals with the illegal use of the Internet?
   ICRA only deals with legal speech and therefore does not deal with
   anything that requires law enforcement.

   Isn't it easier for government to regulate the Internet?
   Government need not regulate Internet content because industry is
   taking a leadership role in offering parents tools to protect their
   children from material they deem inappropriate. The Internet is a
   global medium; therefore, what one government ascribes to doesn't
   carry any force elsewhere on the World Wide Web.

   How prevalent is the Internet on US teenagers' lives?
   73% of U.S. teens (age 12-17) are using the Internet
   84% of teens surf the Web for fun versus 63% of adults
   92% of teens communicate through email
   55% visit a chat room and almost 74% send instant messages
   Pew Internet & American Life Project -- June 20, 2001

   What is the Number One Concern of Internet Users?
   Child Pornography leads the pack with 50% of Internet users
   concerned Pew Internet & American Life Project -- June 20, 2001

   ICRA cares about online child protection. What is the Children's
   Online Privacy Protection Rule? Congress passed the Children's
   Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in October 1998, with a
   requirement that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issue and
   enforce rules concerning children's online privacy. The primary
   goal of the Act and the Rule is to place parents in control over
   what information is collected from their children online. The Rule
   was designed to be strong, yet flexible, to protect children while
   recognizing the dynamic nature of the Internet.

   The COPPA Rule applies to operators of commercial websites and
   online services directed to children under 13 that collect personal
   information from children, and operators of general audience sites
   with actual knowledge that they are collecting information from
   children under 13.

   Those operators must:
   (1) post clear and comprehensive Privacy Policies on the website
   describing their information practices for children's personal
   information; (2) provide notice to parents, and with limited
   exceptions, obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting
   personal information from children; (3) give parents the choice to
   consent to the operator's collection and use of a child's
   information while prohibiting the operator from disclosing that
   information to third parties; (4) provide parents access to their
   child's personal information for review and/or have it deleted; (5)
   give parents the opportunity to prevent further collection or use
   of the information; (6) maintain the confidentiality, security and
   integrity of information they collect from children. In addition,
   the Rule prohibits operators from conditioning a child's
   participation in an online activity on the child's providing more
   information than is reasonably necessary to participate in that

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