Industry Self-Regulation: A Viable Option?
Since the creation of the Recreational Software Advisory Council
(RASCi) in 1994, the software industry and Internet content providers
have become increasingly involved in the development of a self-regulating
system. Faced with the alternative of governmental regulation, the
industry has focused its efforts on creating a system for content
rating, similar to the one well-established by the film industry.
However, due to the growing volume of Web sites and the frequency
with which sites are updated and changed, Internet content rating
is proving to be a challenging task to manage.
The most recent development occurred in October 2001 when the Internet
Content Rating Association (ICRA,) with support from Microsoft,
AOL Time Warner, and Yahoo, explained its Web content label scheme.
The plan is to use content labels, (in the form of Meta tags) which
would be added to the source codes of Web pages. In order to acquire
a content label, content providers are required to fill out a questionnaire.
ICRA's dual aims are to "protect children from potentially
harmful material; and, to protect free speech on the Internet."
There are five categories of material that the ICRA content questionnaire
uses to generate a content rating: nudity and sexual material, violence,
language, chat, and other topics such as the promotion of tobacco,
alcohol, drugs, gambling, discrimination, and any additional material
that might be considered harmful to children. The questionnaire
is available on the ICRA site.
Microsoft, AOL Time Warner, and Yahoo plan to support this rating
scheme and will begin the process of labeling their sites. According
to ICRA, 40,000 sites are already labeled and an additional 160,000
sites that have labels from RASCi have been asked to update.
ICRA claims that self-regulation is a viable option and cites a
number of reasons why content providers should label their sites.
Labeling a site will insure that it is not blocked out by filtering
software that blocks any unrated site regardless of content. Also,
child-friendly sites can be tagged as such and added to a list of
acceptable Web sites. Those content providers that have adult sites
can both help keep children out of their sites and send a message
to the government that legislation is not necessary. Finally, ICRA
makes a strong point by suggesting that a rated site is, in genera,l
more "trustworthy" than a non-rated site.
While the ICRA rating system is a big step, in order for it to
succeed there must be strong cross-industry cooperation. Browsers,
filtering software programmers, and content providers will have
to make a strong commitment if the industry is to get a handle on
content monitoring on the Internet.
Information compiled from both www.rsac.org , and www.pcworld.com
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