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9 Appendix 9: Companies To Cast Parents As Cybercops

  By Steve Vonder Haar.

Article released in Interactive Week (September 11, 1995, number 17).

Parents may have new tools for filtering out the seamy side of cyberspace by early next year as a result of a new alliance of more than 20 companies seeking to set technical standards to foster development of personalized ratings systems for online content.

Operating under the auspices of the World Wide Web Consortium, the new industry committee, expected to be announced Monday, would merge the smut-fighting efforts of the consortium with the Information Highway Parental Empowerment Group (IHPEG), an organization backed primarily by Microsoft Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp.

The goal of the committee is to develop standards that allow computers to exchange information on content ratings that can then be used to block or permit access to an online site. Called the Platform for Internet Content Selection (or PICS), the standards would allow outside companies to create their own ratings systems that could be marketed to families.

Parents then could block their children's access to any site that does not carry the equivalent of a ``Good Housekeeping'' seal for family-suitable electronic content. Parents would have the option of buying ratings filter software for their home computers or relying on access providers to offer the filter options online, said Jim Miller, research scientist with the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, which is coordinating the industry partnership.

Reference software code that can be used to develop the actual rating systems will be available to committee members by the end of the year, with general release of the software to outside developers on a royalty-free basis set for the end of January. Such a timetable should result in the release of rating systems designed for the commercial market by March or April, Miller said.

The alliance includes most of the heavyweights in today's cyberspace. Included in the partnership are America Online Inc., AT&T Corp., the Center for Democracy and Technology, CompuServe, IBM Corp., IHPEG, the Information Technology Association of America, the Interactive Services Association, MCI Communications Corp., Microsoft, Netscape, Open Market Inc., Prodigy Services Co., Progressive Networks Inc., Providence Systems/Parental Guidance, SafeSurf, SpyGlass Inc., SurfWatch Software, Time Warner Inc. and Viacom Inc.'s Nickelodeon service.

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