Several years ago, Jerry Pournelle wrote his article "Fighting Net Terror" (Internet World). In it he outlined cases of users who have been stalked via the Net. Children are especially vulnerable. Adults who wish to harm children can easily hide behind false fronts and maintain their anonymity via remailer services. This situation surpasses black and white questions of protecting the First Ammendment. When a person is stalked, threatened, and put in jeopardy, the laws of the United States are being broken. More specifically, children can be and will be harmed.
Parents who don't want their children to read Penthouse do not cut off all access to periodicals. It is not necessary to stop children from visiting online museums, Sea World via the Net, or catch up on homework assignments if the flu is visiting. These same parents may not want their offspring to access explicit photos or other in appropriate information.
Parents are demanding controls that make the online world more hospitable to families. Several software products have been developed (these will be discussed in a future article), but the most far-reaching effort at controlling access on the Internet and World Wide Web is spearheaded by the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) committee. This group is made up of more than 20 of the industry's largest companies. From a parent's perspective, the PICS initiative indicates that the industry long ago got the message that parents are concerned and are working toward the same goals.
PICS will not rate sites--it will simply define a standard way for Web browsers and Internet applications to read ratings. The PICS site indicates that, "The PICS platform is one on which other rating services and filtering software have been built." Content ratings may be provided by the person who maintains the website, or by an organization such as SurfControl. Using PICS standards, software developers can build products that allow parents to pick and choose the types of sites their children can access. Parents also can customize the rating system (i.e., by setting different sensitivity levels for such criteria as violence and sex). The PICS site lists compliant products and services.
There are other sites dedicated to promoting Internet safety for children. Some of these are:
- SafeSurf. This site promotes itself as "the original Internet rating system." It offers a detailed rating system for Web sites, so parents can choose the type of site their children can visit.
- SafeKids. Offers a detailed article on Internet safety from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
- Cyber Angels. Formerly Cyber Angels was designed to bring together law enforcement volunteers and civilian volunteers to help prevent and investigate complaints of cybercriminal activity and assist these law enforcement groups.