SafeSurf is among the first organizations to develop an Internet rating system. The technology takes advantage of a newly ratified standard for labeling Web site content called the PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) standard. The PICS coding identifies any content that might be questionable on a participating Web site, coding that is then read and interpreted by an Internet rating system to judge whether the site is appropriate for viewing.
The rating system communicates that information to the filtering software or the browser so that access can be blocked. Each rating system employs unique criteria so that parents or educators can choose the system that corresponds most closely to their own values, and most filtering packages support more than one.
Now, SafeSurf chairman Ray Soular is encouraging the companies that support his filtering software, NetNanny, Microsystems' Cyber Patrol, and SurfWatch, CyberSitter, and Intergo, to spread the word that their software can be used to filter out sites that contain information on making bombs.
SafeSurf is hoping to head the government off at the pass by proving that the Internet can regulate itself before any legislation is passed to discourage terrorism by controlling information online.
"We found sites that show people how to make bombs make out of things made from household items," Soular said, noting that these materials are easily available. "With all the situations that are happening recently and the awareness of bomb making information on the Internet, we want to make sure that children don't start going to sites and trying to make homemade Napalm and things like that"
Implementing the PICS standard, however, is a completely volunteer operation that relies on the willingness of the Web site developers to cooperate by implementing the PICS coding. Soular said he believes that most developers will cooperate: "No one wants be in the position of providing dangerous information to children."
But if they don't choose to participate, he adds, they face the specter of government censorship.