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Web Companies Seek Internet Rating System

Internet users around the world will be able to block controversial sites from children as early as November, an independent content rating entity said in a news conference in Washington, D.C, last week.

Independent Content Rating Association, which lists prominent Web services as members in the United States and worldwide, said the first version of the ICRA filter will work on Microsoft Windows software starting with the 95 version and up, according to a news release. A more complex filter will appear in spring 2002.
U.S. ICRA board members include such industry giants as Microsoft, IBM, Yahoo, AOL, Verizon and Cable & Wireless.
ICRA designers created a “self-labeling system that is about choice–not censorship–on the Internet,” Mary Lou Kenny, ICRA’s North American director, told Associated Press.
The system will use short pieces of text, such as “n 0 s 0 v 0” for nudity, sex or violence, which a publisher can include in the HTML code of a Web site, according to Wired magazine.
Web browsers like Internet Explorer will read the ratings and block sites that exceed levels of violence or nudity set by parents.
Previous attempts to introduce a similar rating approach have not succeeded.
Microsoft’s own MSNBC.com once attempted to use ICRA’s ratings, but abandoned the practice nearly four years ago, Wired magazine reported.
Questions set by the proposed ICRA filter are too broad to avoid unplanned blocking of mainstream news sites, said critics like the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Some organizations doubt the ratings system will live up to parents standards.
An international ratings system on the Net cannot fully address concerns of parents for their children surfing the Internet, Stephen Barber, executive director of Rated-G Online filtering service, told Wired.com.
Kenny said roughly 200,000 Web sites are already labeled. However, ICRA member site Yahoo.com recently failed to pass the profanity check by Wired magazine, because it featured an article with obscene language.
ICRA admitted on its Web site that, “sadly, Netscape 6 does not support the new ICRA system.”
Alex Smirnov is BCE’s research associate.