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Promoting Online Safety: The Home-School Partnership

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ICRA Launches New Content Labeling System

The Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA), an international independent, non-profit organization, has launched a new Internet labeling system designed to be adapted to different national, cultural and individual needs.

Rating systems are viewed as one way to help protect children when they go online. Recent versions of the major Internet browser products can be configured to bar access to unrated sites or sites that have identified that they contain content that some could find inappropriate.

ICRA's new system, unveiled on Dec. 13, 2000, incorporates the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICs), a labeling system developed by the World Wide Web Consortium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previously, ICRA had served as the management body for the rating system that was originally developed by the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC).

The original RSAC label focused on four categories of concern: nudity, sex, language and violence. The new ICRA scheme expands those categories to include topics such as tobacco, alcohol and drug use, gambling, and promotion of weapon use and harm against people. It also enables Web sites that label to specify that the context in which their materials appear is artistic, educational or medical and thus may be considered suitable for children.

Web sites can go through a voluntary, free process to label themselves. The ICRA labeling engine creates a properly formatted PICS label that can then be read by such applications as Microsoft's Internet Explorer Content Advisor and Netscape's NetWatch.

ICRA is committed to providing a system that is objective," said Sheridan Scott, chair of ICRA and chief regulatory officer for Bell Canada. "We do not operate with any censorial or moral agenda. We simply want to provide a means for parents and other responsible adults to be able to choose what their charges view. Only by providing systems like this that help reassure parents that the Internet can be a safe learning and communication tool can it reach its full potential for everyone."

Up until now, the promise of content labeling systems has been limited because only a limited number of Web sites have agreed to adopt labels. ICRA officials have said that they are now focusing on getting the most popular Web sites, Web sites aimed at children and adult-oriented Web sites to adopt labels.

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