As the legal underpinnings under the Communications Decency Act fall increasingly under attack, Progressive Networks is working on another tool to help the Net regulate itself, this time to filter out obscenity in audio on the Net.
As a case in point, a separate Progressive Networks Web site called Timecast: The Real Audio Guide has used the PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) technology sponsored by the World Wide Web Consortium to filter obscenities out of an article about what text and audio recordings would be illegal under the CDA, including an excerpt from comedian George Carlin's infamous "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" monologue.
The PICS technology embeds code in a Web page that rates its content on a number of factors, including sexual content, violence, and obscenities. Browsers and parental control software such as SurfWatch then use rating systems that read the code and allow parents to set levels of what they deem appropriate content. Any page that exceeds those levels is simply blocked.
The company claims that the Timecast example is the first to account for audio elements included in the Web page. It prevents anyone using PICS-enabled software to access pages that exceed the pre-set limits, including for example, blocking access to the page with Carlin's monologue.
The technique is indirect, according to Matt Holland, Webmaster for Progressive Networks. It works by reading the PICS tag on the page with the RealAudio clip, rather than determining the content of the clip itself. The approach is also an all-or-nothing proposition, meaning that a user can't hear the monologue with the "dirty" words cut out; the user simply can't get to the Web page at all.
Holland says the company is working on a system in which all the innocuous text on a page would be visible--a review of a pop song, for example--but the link to an audio file of the song wouldn't be accessible if contained offensive lyrics.