The "news" rating is a creation of the Internet Content Coalition (ICC), whose members, mostly online news organizations, don't want Web rating systems that filter out sexual or violent content to block their sites automatically. With the proposed "N" rating, users would have to make individual decisions about blocking news sites.
IE 4.0, which will ship by the end of the summer, uses the PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) software architecture so users can block sites based on sex, violence, foul language, and other criteria. Previous versions of IE have the same capability.
But Microsoft is too far along in the IE 4.0 testing process to build in support for the proposed "news" rating, according to IE 4.0 product manager Kevin Unangst. If the rating becomes part of the RSAC (Recreational Software Advisory Council) rating system, IE 4.0 users will be able to download and install an updated "ratings file" from the Microsoft Web site, Unangst said.
The ICC was organized by representatives from MIT and the WELL. Since then, a group including Playboy Enterprises, NBC, Microsoft, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and CNET (publisher of NEWS.COM) have joined to help define the criteria for the "news" rating.
The organizations have already presented President Clinton with a letter outlining the ICC's intentions, which happen to fit the White House's philosophy of self-regulation on the Net. That effort accelerated since the Supreme Court struck down the Communications Decency Act last month.
But as the voluntary group garners support, critics of the ICC plan contend that what is "news" and what isn't shouldn't be left up to the discretion of the ICC or any other organization.
The ICC is already working on drafting criteria--one possibility under discussion would let a site use the "news" label if its contents are regularly updated with news that is reported and edited for a public audience--but the implementation of the "news" rating in IE 4.0 is a moot point until the category is actually approved and adopted by the RSAC or another rating system.