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Net bigwigs label sites' content

Trying to make the Web more child-friendly, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo say they've tagged almost every page on their sites with an updated content-assessment system.

    Trying to do their part to make the Web more child-friendly, technology heavyweights including America Online, Microsoft and Yahoo say they've labeled almost every page on their sites with an updated content-assessment system.

    Living up to a commitment they made in October, the companies announced that they've labeled 93 percent of their pages in accordance with the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA), a voluntary system that seeks to create a content-neutral guide for parents and children. The ICRA is an international nonprofit group that aims to balance efforts to protect children online while respecting free speech.

    The companies plan to unveil their ICRA-related plans at an event Tuesday at the Tech Museum in San Jose, Calif. To participate in the plan, Web site operators fill out a questionnaire about material including sexual, violent and tobacco-related content.

    A metatag, or label, is then generated that lists the material, although it does not include a value judgment or rating of the site. Browsers and blocking programs that include ICRA's filtering technology can then use the information to determine whether a site meets a parent's criteria. The organization also unveiled a new ICRA filter.

    The move gives more teeth to the ICRA program. Because it is voluntary, the program can only be effective if it is used by a large number of sites. The companies characterized their efforts as a key component in their attempts to gain or maintain customer trust.

    "As the Internet becomes increasingly essential in the lives of consumers, it is important that we focus on providing tools for families, like the ICRA label, to create the best experience on the Web," Yahoo Vice President Srinija Srinivasan said in a statement.

    In May, the National Academy of Sciences released a report saying that technology is only one part of a comprehensive effort needed to protect children online. Other components include parental guidance and education campaigns.

    ICRA executives cited that report, saying their product can be part of the plan.

    "While technology plays a role in protecting children online, ICRA recognizes that technology cannot do the job alone. To ensure a rewarding yet safe Internet experience, parents must understand the risks and rewards of Internet use, and work with their children to establish 'ground rules' for access," Mary Lou Kenny, director of ICRA North America, said in a statement.

    On Tuesday, ICRA also said it will seek funding for a national education campaign to help create a safer Internet.