21st March 2002
Internet industry leaders gather for launch of ICRAfilter
Today's unveiling of ICRAfilter marks a significant development in international efforts towards empowering parents to protect their children on the Internet without infringing on content providers' freedom of expression.
ICRAfilter is the second phase of the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA) global labelling system. The initial phase was the creation of the first truly international syntax to describe content on the Internet. Content providers can voluntarily and objectively label their own sites by completing a questionnaire which generates a descriptive html tag or label following the PICS standard. ICRA's new filtering tool 'reads' the labels ensuring that parents world-wide will now be able to filter content according to their values and what they feel is appropriate for their own children.
Currently over 50,000 sites are labelled including some of the most trafficked providers of adult material on the Internet. The world's top three sites Yahoo, MSN and AOL, which account for half all Internet traffic in the USA, are in the process of labelling.
ICRA promotes co-operation between competitors and sees other filtering providers as potential collaborators, working with them to incorporate elements of ICRAfilter into their products. Stephen Balkam, Chief Executive Officer of ICRA, comments, "It is important to state that no organisation, including ICRA, can guarantee a 100% safe surfing experience. Having said that, ICRA does give consumers the most democratic, culturally neutral, self-determining option available. We are offering the first modular approach to Internet filtering based on participation by everyone, content providers, template creators, parents and other concerned adults. We are delighted that BTopenworld, Tiscali & others are adopting the ICRAfilter and urge other manufacturers and ISPs to include ICRAfilter or add the functionality of ICRAfilter in their own filtering products."
Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes, speaking at the launch congratulated ICRA on its innovative and internationally sensitive approach to the complex issue of content labelling. "I am delighted to see this international effort being launched from the UK. We all need to make sure that we take sensible precautions to protect ourselves and our children online and the ICRA filter will provide parents with a useful and accessible tool.
"It complements the multi-stranded work being done by the Task Force on Child Protection on the Internet, particularly our recent public awareness campaign. Our aim is to work in partnership with industry to make the UK the safest place in the world for children to use and enjoy the many benefits the Internet offers."
ICRAfilter differs from other filtering tools on the market on two levels - primarily, its foundation in choice not censorship, in which it is supported by a consortium of leading Internet companies, associations and academics. The ICRA labelling system is purely descriptive of content and not a 'rating' based on moral judgement. All web sites are voluntarily rated with neutral descriptors. It is parents or other responsible adults who judge what is appropriate for their own children at the point of setting up the ICRAfilter.
Secondly, ICRAfilter offers enhanced functionality. ICRA provides an internationally acceptable labelling system with increased categories of concern including the promotion of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and weapons as well as sex, nudity, language and violence. Context variables are included to distinguish sites that have educational, artistic or medical content. This adaptability allows the filter to grow with the child and work within different cultures.
ICRA's modular approach means parents can also enter web addresses to 'block' or 'allow' access irrespective of any ICRA label. In addition to a parent's self-created lists, lists from trusted third parties, such as the Anti-Defamation League, can be downloaded and utilised. By interpreting ICRA labels and lists of web sites a parent can also choose to import filtering templates - a set of rules covering what should and what shouldn't be allowed according to criteria set by a trusted third party organisation.
Further security features include the ability for lists of web sites within templates to be 'hashed' - one way encryption that cannot be broken - and for templates to carry digital signatures which prove authenticity.
In addition parents have the option of shutting off access to specific parts of the Internet such as email, chat rooms, newsgroups and secure web sites (typically used for credit card transactions).
ICRAfilter, works on Window 95 upwards and operates independently of any browser. It is available as a free download from the ICRA web site without any options pre-configured. Parents can also obtain ICRAfilter from a growing range of other companies preloaded in their own branded filtering templates.
The ICRAfilter launch was hosted at the BT Conference Centre by ICRA. Speakers at the launch included Home Office Minister, Beverley Hughes, Chair of the Government Task Force on Child Protection on the Internet and Mark Stephens, the Human Rights advocate and lawyer, a champion for freedom of expression on the Internet.
Sheridan Scott, ICRA chair and Chief regulatory officer, Bell Canada, concludes, "Today's unprecedented gathering of leading industry figures is testament to the seriousness with which the business community takes its collective corporate responsibility for promoting a secure online environment governed with integrity. The demonstrable collaboration between industry, academics, non-profits, government, educators, media and parents fills me with much hope for a future Internet where our children will be able to learn and explore without risk."
Some words from the Industry:
With the power of the Internet allowing access to virtually any kind of information, including the offensive or distressing as well as the educational and informative, we must take every step possible to protect our children while they are online. The Internet Content Rating Association, like AOL's own Parental Controls, empowers parents to keep their children safe online while allowing them to enjoy entertaining and enriching content.
Camille de Stempel, Director of Security and Network Policy, AOL Europe
Microsoft continues to believe that empowering parents and users through new technologies is the best way to balance the need for Internet and consumer control. ICRA is an important component in developing these new technologies and delivering them to the public.
Shereen Meharg, MSN EMEA Child Protection Manager
As an international non-profit organisation committed to making the Internet a great place for children, Childnet believes that ICRA is playing a crucial role in developing free tools that will enable parents from different cultures around the world to make their children's online experiences safer.
Nigel Williams, Chief Executive, Childnet International
When the Internet Watch Foundation was created in 1996 to set up a UK hotline our ISP sponsors imaginatively included a brief to develop self-labelling systems. We have supported ICRA and its predecessor throughout that time to develop a freely accessible and internationally acceptable labelling and filtering scheme. We are delighted to see the successful culmination of those efforts with the launch of ICRAfilter.
David Kerr, Internet Watch Foundation
VeriSign has been pleased to support the work of the Internet Content Rating Association. It embodies what we think are the most effective ways to deal with the serious problem of content that is inappropriate for children on the Internet: technology tools that are reliable, global, flexible, and available to parents and teachers at little or no expense. It is through efforts like ICRA's that many of the most important challenges raised by the global Internet are being, and will be, successfully addressed.
Roger J. Cochetti, Senior Vice President & Chief Policy Officer VeriSign
Verizon believes it to be good public policy to educate parents and children about safe and productive use of the Internet, and to equip them with the best tools and information with which to control content. Accordingly, Verizon considers it to be presumptive, at best, for business or government to decide which content is bad, and which is good, for end-users. This notion of "end-user empowerment" has led Verizon to fully support ICRA and its goals.
Frederick B. Cooke Jr./EMP, Vice President Government Relations
ICRA's ability to bring together very different and often competing private sector interests from around the world to support a single cause is a resounding achievement. It is testament to the value many of us place on making the Internet a safer experience for children, and how that goal can be realized within a context that also champions freedom of expression and cultural diversity. Bell Canada is proud to be part of this achievement.
Sheridan Scott, Chief Regulatory Officer Bell Canada
Notes to editors