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net censorship

Bernhard Warner | 22.03.2002 12:59


Watchdog Unveils Net Filter
In Bid To Sanitize Web
By Bernhard Warner
European Internet Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) - A non-profit group aiming to protect children from unsavory material on the Net introduced a Web browsing filter on Thursday that blocks access to sites promoting, among other things, sex, drugs and hate speech.

The initiative comes from the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA), a small organization with an enormously ambitious goal.

Since the mid-1990s, ICRA, which has offices in the US and Britain, has been working to establish the Internet's first voluntary rating system for all major Web sites.

"We have a dual mission: to empower parents to protect their kids (from offensive Web sites), while protecting free speech. This is a pretty difficult mission," Stephen Balkam, ICRA's chief executive, told Reuters.

With a ratings system in place -- one that categorizes sites based on its subject content, and labeling them as, say, "educational" or "adult" -- the group hopes to improve odds that children do not unwittingly stray onto adult-themed Web sites.

The ICRA rating is not carried on the site itself, but inside its source code, thus making it easier for filtering software to detect and block out, in the case of adult sites.


Until now, ICRA has been little known by consumers. The brunt of its work has been a campaign to sign up Internet companies for its ratings program.

Over 50,000 Web site publishers have volunteered to have their sites classified under the ICRA system, from the tame Yahooligans kid portal on Yahoo to the racy, Balkam said.

Balkam said he is hopeful the launch of the ICRA filter, its first commercial product, will make it more of a household name. The filter allows users to compile a list of "safe" sites, or conversely a "blackout" list of inappropriate sites, that they can download into a customary Web browser, thus creating a confined, kid-safe online environment.

There are already numerous Web site-filtering software packages on the market from the more prominent Net Nanny, which cost $39.95 to install, to Kid Safe at $15.

In muscling into this competitive niche market, ICRA will seek to play up its free offering and the industry support it has garnered from Web site publishers.

Balkam said ICRA, which subsists on corporate donations and government funding, has received a $1.15 million grant from the European Union.

Bernhard Warner