The Recreational Software Advisory Council
- Content Labeling
- RSAC Background
- The RSAC System
- Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS)
- RSAC Market Analysis
- Content Developers
- Web Farms/Content Hosts
- Search Engines and Agents
- Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
- On-line Services, Firewalls, Proxies, and Intranets
- Non-RSAC Rating Mechanisms
- Strategies and Issues of Concern
- Revenue Generation
- Charge for Each Rating
- Charge a subscription fee
- Charge per use or connection
- Sell Ads and Sponsorship
- Digital Signatures, Intellectual Property and Market Brand
- International Issues
- Mind Share and Partnering Strategies
- APPENDIX Directory of Companies and Products
- SurfWatch http://www.surfwatch.com/
- SafeSurf http://www.safesurf.com/index.html
- Net Nanny http://188.8.131.52/netnanny/home.html
- CYBERsitter http://www.solidoak.com/cybersit.htm
- Cyber Patrol http://www.microsys.com/CYBER/
- Net Shepherd http://www.shepherd.net/
- Internet Filter http://www.xmission.com/~seer/jdksoftware/netfilt.html
- New View/iScreen http://www.newview.com/
The Recreational Software Advisory Council
"The RSACi system was developed to provide parents and consumers with objective, detailed information about the content of an Internet site, allowing them to make informed decisions regarding site access for themselves and their children." -- RSAC home page.
At the onset of 1996, the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC) announced the launch of RSACi, an extension of a video and computer game content labeling system to the Internet. However, for RSAC to be successful in the near future a number of significant questions need to be resolved by RSAC's Executive Director, Stephen Balkam, and RSAC's Board of Directors.
- What is the proper business model for content labeling on the Internet?
- What are the best means of generating revenue in such a market place?
- How will the market play out, who will be the dominant players?
- What is the nature of the relationships one holds with companies that are both competitors, licensees, and customers?
These questions are central to the near and far term strategy of RSAC.
There are approximately 750,000 on-line users below the age of 18. A recently pronounced goal of the administration for the National Information Infrastructure (NII) is to enable it to provide a level of education to all students that surpasses the highest levels of education available today. Throughout the history of the NII, education and research were a key motivation for the development of the technology, first as the ARPANET, then the Internet, the NREN, the NII, and as part of the project GOALS2000. Many of the recent initiatives (from about 1989 onwards) have also focused a great deal on the educational capabilities of these networks for K-12 (grade school) students. However, a significant reason for the presence of young people on the Internet has been the explosive growth of on-line services and Internet access, especially through services such as America On-line (AOL), CompuServe, and Prodigy. Ironically, this generalized surge has also brought an increase in the availability of adult content and services.
For those that find this alarming, the situation is further complicated by numerous controversial topics such as censorship, anonymity, and government control; the decentralized nature of the Internet; and ill informed media attention. An excellent case study of this situation is the information available on the Martin Rimm and Time Internet pornography fiasco.
Hence, those that are sincere about preventing censorship and enabling legitimate parental control are left in a difficult position. However content labeling may be a way to meet both goals of non censorious content selection and screening. Such schemes allow Internet content providers to either self label, or be labeled by third parties with respect to any number of attributes. The areas of greatest concern relate to attributes such as sex, violence, nudity, and language.
Caveat on Vocabulary
Before proceeding with the analysis we must first discuss some of the terms used in the analysis. The usage of terms "objective" and "judgmental" can be rather contentious. To address this, we disassociate any of these terms with any pejorative meanings - opinionated gut feelings about Web content can be very useful - and posit that there are three variables with which content labeling systems can be considered:
descriptive/judgmental - does the label describe the content, or provide an opinion about the "appropriateness" of the content.
deterministic/non-deterministic - is the previous process a deterministic process, or is it "gut" based, and
voluntary, mandatory, or third party - does the author label his works voluntarily, is he required to label his works by some other agency, or can other services label his content.
No rating system we discuss is purely descriptive or deterministic. Rather, each system varies with respect to where it falls between extremes.
In 1994, Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.) chaired a number of Senate hearings regarding the increasing levels of violence in computer games. To address these concerns and to deflect possible government regulation of this media, a coalition of six trade organizations, led by the Software Publishers Association, formed the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC). This council is an independent, non-profit organization and is focused on creating a descriptive content-labeling rating system for recreational software and other media.
RSAC is a small organization consisting of a Board of Directors, the Executive Director, two full time employees, an intern, and temporaries as needed. The Board of Directors is mostly made of members from outside the computer software industry, and consists of academics, psychologists, media researchers, pediatricians, publishing experts, and educators. It includes members such as Dr. Donald Roberts, Chairman of the Communications Department at Stanford University, who has studied the effects of media on children for nearly 20 years, and computer scientist, Professor C. Dianne Martin of George Washington University
RSAC's annual revenue is approximately $300,000 - annual revenue is expected to increase with the addition of sponsors. Eighty percent of this revenue is from sponsors, twenty percent is derived from content rating fees. This funding ratio demonstrates the importance of RSAC's relationship with media and information technology companies.
The RSAC System
The RSAC labeling system provides descriptive information about potentially objectionable multimedia. This information helps consumers make the appropriate purchasing (of video games) or browsing (of the Web) decisions.
Most people are familiar with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating system in which a board of reviewers examines the content and then issues a judgmental and non-deterministic rating. The process is non-deterministic because while general rules of thumb may guide the reviewers' decisions, the process itself is opaque and the results are sometimes at odds with other ratings. It is judgmental because the ratings do not describe the content of the film, but only what age group may see the film.
In contrast to the MPAA, the RSAC system has specific criteria by which content is rated. Content producers, such as video game makers, answer a detailed questionnaire about their content with respect to violence, nudity, sex, and language. RSAC then processes the questionnaire, registers and returns the consequent rating to the company. The company is able to use that label in advertising or on their product. The label consists of a number, between (0-4), for each of the four categories. A rating of All (0) represents the minimum amount of objectionable material. The system is represented in graphical form by a thermometer. The number, or the temperature of the thermometer, informs the customer about the specific content of the package as is demonstrated in the Consumer Software Content Guide for violence:
HARMLESS CONFLICT; SOME DAMAGE TO OBJECTS
CREATURES INJURED OR KILLED; DAMAGE TO OBJECTS; FIGHTING
HUMANS INJURED OR KILLED WITH SMALL AMOUNT OF BLOOD
HUMANS INJURED OR KILLED, BLOOD AND GORE
WANTON AND GRATUITOUS VIOLENCE TORTURE; RAPE
The system does not say for whom the content is appropriate, it merely describes the content with respect to characteristics that parents may be concerned about.
Since content providers fill out the questionnaire, it is a self-labeling and voluntary system. To ensure public confidence in the RSAC system, the content creator (producer) is contractually obligated to rate the content accurately and fairly. Every month a number of registered titles are randomly sampled. Producers who have willfully misrepresented the nature of their content may be fined up to $10,000 and may be required to recall their product from the shelves.
Using this system, RSAC has rated over 350 game titles with 94 companies including the popular "Myst" by Bröderbund, "Doom II" by id Software, and "Dark Forces" by LucasArts. The pricing structure for this service discriminates on the basis of gross revenues and fees are charged for the following categories:
rating appeal fee
if a company contests the rating it receives and wishes to appeal it.
if a company requests a decision on the answer to a question on the questionnaire.
annual republisher registration fee
for those that redistribute programs
Only two companies have ever requested an appeal. No suites were filed for misrepresentation.
Examples of fees charged for rating a title with respect to gross revenue are:
less than $100,000 $50/title
over $100,100 $250/titile
over $1,000,000 $400/title
So as not to create a disincentive for the rating of games, no company's registration and rating fees exceed $500 or 0.15% of the previous year's gross revenue (which ever is higher).
Within this market, RSAC's main competitor is the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The ESRB system does provide content information (called descriptors), but focuses on age appropriateness like the MPAA system. ESRB has a significant advantage in that all games released under a dominant interactive game software organization must rate with ESRB. In the face of this increasingly difficult market, RSAC's Balkam saw a significant opportunity for a voluntary and descriptive content labeling system for the Internet. Such a system would fit with the Internet culture and should prove to be extensible as the net continues to grow. In April 1996, the RSAC rating system was adapted for Internet content and can be encoded in the PICS standard.
During the formation and development of RSAC in 1995, a number of Internet specific labeling activities occurred:
1. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony regarding the "Protection of Children From Computer Pornography Act of 1995" (S. 892)
2. The Information Highway Parental Empowerment Group (IHPEG), a coalition of three companies (Microsoft Corporation, Netscape Communications, and Progressive Networks), was formed to develop standards for empowering parents to screen inappropriate network content.
3. A number of standards for content labeling were proposed including Borenstein's and New's Internet Draft "KidCode" (June 1995).
4. A number of services and products for blocking inappropriate content were announced, including Cyber Patrol, CyberSitter, Internet Filter, NetNanny, SurfWatch, and WebTrack.
By August, much of the standards activity was consolidated under the auspices of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) when the W3C, IHPEG, and twenty other organizations agreed to merge their efforts and resources to develop a standard for content selection.
The result of the agreement is the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) standard that allows organizations to easily define content rating systems, and enable users to selectively block (or seek) information. It is important to stress that the standard is not a rating system (like MPAA or RSAC), but an encoding method for the ratings of those systems. Those encoded ratings can then be distributed with documents, or through third party label bureaus. To aid the rating of large sites, labels may apply to whole directory structures (hierarchies) of a Web site if the label is appropriate to all the content.
Labels consist of a service identifier, label options, and a rating. The following figure demonstrates a label for an RSAC label of language (l=3), sex (s=2), and violence (v=0):
by "John Patrick"
ratings (l 3 s 2 v 0)) Figure 0-1 Example PICS label using RSAC service. The encoding specifies the rating service, version number, the creation and expiration date, the page, the rater, and the ratings themselves (other options may be specified but are not shown). Multiple labels can exist for any page. Labels can be included in html documents within the <meta *> tag, they can be fetched from the http server using the http get command, or they can be fetched from label bureaus. Hence, the author of a homepage could include a variety of labels into the page itself (the RSAC, MPAA, or Golf-Fan systems), the http server on which the page resides could also have a label for that particular page, and a third party label bureau like the "Good House Keeping Seal of the Web" could be queried for its opinion of the quality of the Web page.
The multiple distribution methods lead the authors of PICS to stress the differences between rating systems and rating services. A rating service provides content labels for information on the Internet. A Rating Service uses a rating system to describe the content. For instance, the Unitarian rating service, and Christian Coalition rating service could both use the MPAA rating system to describe what each thought was the appropriate age for viewing the information.
In this market, label systems and services will have a significant stake in maintaining the public confidence in the authenticity of their ratings. Malicious users who falsely label content could damage the reputation of a service, a rating system, or PICS in general. To prevent that manipulation of labels or the content to which they apply, PICS includes the capability to ensure the integrity of a label (using message integrity checks (MICS)) and its authenticity (using digital signatures). In this way, compliant browsers can ensure that a document has not changed or been manipulated since the labeling of the document, and that the label is genuine.
An important part of PICS compliance is the requirement that PICS compatible clients read any label system definition from a user accessible configuration file.
The RSACi system is a Web based questionnaire that queries the user about the content of a Web page or directory tree. Upon completion, it returns a PICS label similar to Figure 0-1. The service does not currently provide message integrity checks or digital signatures. This service is currently free to all. It is expected that many of the attributes of the previous RSAC system will be extended to RSACi, including the sampling of sites for labeling veracity and compliance with the terms of service that a user agrees to before receiving the label. If fees are collected for services, RSAC may benefit from the emergence of Internet payment mechanisms.
RSAC's potential role in the labeling of Web content is complex. Just as the production and distribution of Web content is more than a matter of placing an html document on a server, RSAC and other PICS-compliant rating systems are more than the voluntary insertion of labels into documents by their creators. This simple act is only the first step in a strategically and technically complex flow of information from origin to destination. This section presents an analysis of RSAC's relations to the production and distribution of content.
The production and flow of content is neither a vertically integrated production chain - the same people who create the content do not necessarily provide the conduit and browsers - nor is it a purely distributed and segmented market. Our view is that although this market is highly compartmentalized, the need for market efficiencies will drive the creation of strategic alliances and standards between functional domains (such as on-line companies and browsers). This consequently affects the delivery paths and quality of content. RSAC's companions in this market include content producers, content hosts, other rating services, bots, search engines, directories, filters, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), on-line services, protocol developers, and browser/software companies.
Continued on Next Page
At each step, information may be redirected, collected, or amplified by a value added service. Companies can take advantage of strategic opportunities for increasing market efficiency and strengthening their position in the market. Given this interesting market structure, the relevant question is which domains (and their boundaries) will be of the greatest significance to labeling services?
Relationships engendered with large content developers increase the mind share of the RSAC system. Also, as the use of PICS-based extensions to search engines develop, content creators will have increasing incentives to us RSAC and other PICS-based rating services, not only to signify that "there is nothing objectionable here - let this through," but to identify the site as having information that:
- while controversial is desired
- is of value in particular contexts (such as rating vacation spots or books)
Web farms and content hosts provide server services to individuals and organizations that lack the means or interest to support their own server. As a defense against charges of harboring objectionable material without proper safeguards, these entities may encourage or require that its content developers self label. CompuServe has endorsed the RSAC system through an implementation with CyberPatrol and has encouraged individual and institutional content developers on its systems to employ the RSAC labeling system.
Search engines and agents lay outside of the direct path of content flow - one does not need a search engine. However, they often provide an important value added service in channeling and selecting information. As such, search engines may gain from PICS' (and RSAC's) success in the mid to long term because label information may improve searching and indexing capabilities. This in turn may be a further incentive to content developers to adopt RSAC and other PICS-based rating systems.
Bots travel from site to site retrieving information of interest to their owners. Since bots are personal, discriminatory spiders, their ability to search and retrieve content with specified RSAC labels has implications similar to that of search engines. As they gain the ability to communicate with each other (one could now call them "agents"), PICS compliant labels could become the language for communicating about the preferences of their owners. See Content Ratings and Other Third-Party Value-Added Information Defining an Enabling Platform for related information.
Internet Service Providers are convenient points of control. Legislators have been eager to make ISPs legally responsible for the material they carry. It was this possibility that led to the efforts to promote content selections systems in the face of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) - if ISPs were liable for the traffic they carried, they would either exit the industry or enforce stifling controls on the freedom of expression. AT&T is offering both SurfWatch and CyberPatrol to users of its WorldNet Internet access service. Unipalm Pipex, a large British ISP, has recently agreed to distribute software that allows companies to voluntary screen information. Pipex, the UK arm of UUNet, claims 60% of the corporate UK Internet users. Since ISPs have been a focus of much of the controversy, they may be eager to adopt or support relatively non-judgmental systems like RSAC.
These categories include both publicly accessible (AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy) and private/corporate networks. This market has been particularly concerned with inappropriate material. For while ISPs have argued for common carrier status, on-line services have invested significantly in the creation of a family orientated image. Hence, they have been the quickest adopters of content selection and screen software - such as SurfWatch and CyberPatrol.
Corporations are also concerned about the inappropriate activity on their networks and some are seeking the ability to monitor or screen the activities of their employees using systems like NetShepard. Network services such as Intranet servers, firewalls, and proxies are also points of control for the dissemination of information to an organization.
At the time this was written, Netscape and Microsoft have agreed to incorporate RSAC's PICS implementation into their products. The value of such an agreement for browser companies in the short term is that parental and institutional concerns about restricting access to inappropriate material are addressed. In the mid term the RSAC implementation provides experience with a PICS implementation and incentives to develop and support other PICS compliant rating systems that can improve access to relevant information. In the long term these companies will operate in an information market with an increasing need for their servers and associated services. Allowing the more efficient use of information that they are helping to create, house, and deliver creates a more efficient information market and increases their competitiveness.
One point of particular interest is that while many of the PICS recommendations will be implemented by these and other browsers, the companies have thus far declined to implement signature verification of the labels, an omission that may put the trustworthiness of RSAC and other PICS-compliant systems at risk.
Some filtering systems have similarities with the RSAC system in that they are PICS compliant and content descriptive, but they may differ in significant ways. In the case of SafeSurf, its rating system provides an example of a PICS compliant system that is not content neutral:
- it includes an appropriateness rating with regard to age
- it does provide descriptive labels but they include highly judgmental definitions and descriptions.
Other methods for content filtering include mechanisms like SurfWatch which maintains lists of URL's with objectionable content. NetNanny has filters which block objectionable material (such as curse words) in real time. Although non-RSAC filtering mechanisms may be synergistic in some cases (meaning they may be able to cooperate at some levels, see Comments below), these blocking technologies pose, in most markets, a short term threat to RSAC, primarily because they:
- require proprietary software
- are labor-intensive
- are not extendible to other areas of concern or interest
- realize no economies of scale as the volume of content grows
- employ standards that are obscure, somewhat arbitrary, and ultimately restrictive
The market for content screening and selection will continue to be highly unstable for the near future. One must remember that it is only within the past year that many of these standards and services became available to users of the Internet. As an example of the tremendous pace of events, consider the case of CompuServe. CompuServe has offered SurfWatch as part of its Internet in a Box, a suite of Internet access applications including software from Spry. A competitor of Spry, SpyGlass, has now bought SurfWatch!
Or consider the case of AT&T WorldNet. WorldNet uses (among other systems) CyberPatrol which includes content selection using the RSACi system. A significant issue to RSAC is RSAC's relationships with WorldNet. As stated in the introduction, a significant part of RSACs revenues are derived from bilateral relationships with large firms in this market. For instance, in exchange for being a sponsor, a company may obtain the permission to use the RSAC trade marks, or they may get a place on RSAC's home page (see the following section on Revenue Generation/Selling Adds). If RSACi becomes an integral part of other pieces of the market outlined in this section, companies may lose the incentive to develop direct relationships with RSAC. For instance, could WorldNet actively advertise its services as being RSACi compliant though it has no direct relationship with RSAC? We expect that this issue will best be resolved through the careful development of relationships and the legal structure of those relationships.
The following section discusses issues, strategies, or recommendations that the authors feel may be important to RSAC in the near term.
The generation of revenue is one of the most significant questions RSAC faces today. There are a number of paths for the collection of revenue, some being more valuable than others:
An option to consider is charging a fee for the rating of a site. A wise choice would be to make the fee non-prohibitive and applicable to commercial sites only. Such a scheme is a well understood business model, however, given the "free" nature of the Internet, any such fee could discourage the use of RSACi. Commercial sites with a great deal of content to label may seek out a cost structure more to their advantage.
An alternative to the above scheme is for RSAC to offer "bulk" labeling to large content providers. A monthly or yearly subscription fee for unlimited use may be advantageous to the large content providers. A possible strategy is to differentiate the market into separate levels of quality of service and to discriminate on such a basis. For instance, RSAC could charge for the additional ability to incorporate the RSAC gif-icon, more extensive labels, or for digital signatures.19 Also, developing strong relationships with content providers could be advantageous. (For instance, as part of a yearly fee, RSAC could provide a local copy or automated version of its labeling questionnaire.)
Given that RSAC will potentially have a link from every rated page to itself, RSAC could require that the RSACi icon-graphic have an absolute reference to the RSAC system:
(src=http://www.rsac.org/graphic.gif instead of a locally stored graphic src=graphic.gif)
RSAC could then gauge the amount of "use" it gets from each site and charge the provider per connection by outside users. This method would provide an objective way to gauge the use of the RSAC system and RSAC could tie it directly to their revenue collection.
RSAC has the option to incorporate advertisements directly into their label graphic. For instance, Playboy may pay to have its banner/logo placed alongside the RSAC thermometer at sites with high nudity and sex labels. This would allow RSAC the freedom to provide their services for free which would encourage greater use. Two disadvantages of this system are that RSAC would need to actively seek out advertisers, and it may endanger its relationships with the content providers using their system who do not want advertising on their pages. Also, given the current number of employees RSAC is not able to fully implement a distributed adverting based scheme.
However, if RSAC does become a popular site - consider if a tenth of the Internet population rates with RSAC! - the banners on its own site may be of significant value. Balkam has said that RSAC will continue to take advantage of its relationships with sponsors in exchange for making links to the sponsors from its pages.
Elsewhere we discuss digital signatures with respect to the PICS standard. We also discuss market brand with respect to generating mind share and creating revenue. Here we wish to combine these discussions to recommend that digital signatures be used in the RSACi rating system. Consider that RSAC is able to protect its reputation and create revenue through the protection of its name and labels through trademarks. To protect its reputation in the real world market, it must ensure that its labels correspond to the content, and that no unauthorized content developers use their labels and their respective icons. On the Internet, while trademarked GIFS may be of some advantage in creating mind share and brand, the important "content" with respect to selection software will be the text label shown in Figure 0-1.
How easily can this text be misappropriated? If a digital signature is provided by RSAC and checked by the browsers for authenticity, it is very difficult. If digital signatures are not incorporated, it can be misused very easily. One could create such a label for an adult Web service without consulting the RSAC questionnaire, and one may do so with malicious intent. Trademark would apply to fields within a PICS label that include trademarked text such as, "RSAC" but this can easily be skipped by malicious users. Copyright, which protects the expression of an idea, would provide no protection to a PICS label. Patents are used to cover ideas that are novel and unique. Again, a content description label of the form (v=3, l=1, É ) would have great difficulty passing any such test. Finally, a content label that is hidden by trade secret would be useless. Hence, simple encryption technologies would seem to provide the only protection to widely used labeling systems.
The threat of governmental censorship of multimedia provided the main impetus for the formation of RSAC and the development of PICS. Until this point, we have only considered this issue with respect to the United States. However, an oft cited characteristic of the digital realm is its global scope. This can increase the difficulty of developing a content labeling system because:
1. The cultural norms of violence, language, sexuality, and political freedoms differ across the globe.
2. There are no cultural boundaries in cyberspace. Hence, content which may be considered appropriate within one culture, may be considered inappropriate to others. Governments have been attempting to legislate technical infrastructure requirements because of indecency or cultural concerns.
An immediate difficulty with judgmental systems is that what may be appropriate for one culture may be highly inappropriate for another.
Fortunately, the PICS system allows for multiple rating systems, services, and label bureaus. As an example of a potential problem, consider the aversion for Nazi propaganda by the German government. Without requiring draconian regulation of infrastructure or Internet service providers (ISPs), Germany could require that all browsers and ISPs use a labeling system and label bureau for filtering information pertaining to Nazism. All PICS compliant browsers must be able to read label system definitions from a configuration file, and the government could be responsible for developing the appropriate rating and labeling services. Unfortunately, this technique can be extended even further by nations such as China and Singapore to filter sensitive information, if all access is required to go through gateways that employ filtering software.
Regardless, RSAC has an advantage in the international market because systems that use straight forward content description rather than age appropriateness will have greater applicability across multiple cultures. While there is some cultural bias within the RSAC system, efforts to extend the system while keeping it very content oriented would allow it to have international scope. Some countries may associate different icons or names with the ratings differently, but the numeric value of a descriptive rating would stay the same. Potentially, this would extend RSAC's customer base beyond the US, or allow it to extend its system for international services.
RSAC is selling an information product, a service, and its reputation - relationships with other members of the content production and dissemination chain are key. The following strategies may strengthen RSAC's reputation and mind share with respect to the content labeling market:
Cross media branding - extend the RSAC system into other media. A possibility discussed by Balkam is using the RSAC system for the proposed V-chip. However, this type of extension can have its dangers, while the RSAC system deployed over one media (video games, or a PICS label) may be acceptable to most, it may be received poorly with respect to other media.
Relationship with Web designers - develop relationships with design companies that create pages for a variety of clients so that RSACi is used to label the resulting content.
Relationship with site management developers - the management of large sites with thousands of pages and hundreds of contributors (authors, designers, graphic artists, and editors) is an incentive for the development of integrated Web site management tools and applications. Content labeling will make the management of large sites with dynamic content doubly difficult. Hence, it may be advantageous to RSAC to develop relationships with site management system developers so that the RSACi system can become an integral and easy part of managing complex sites.
In concluding this analysis we cannot offer any "long term" predictions. A common saying among those that study the Internet is that, "three months are one Web year." However, there are a number of observations one can make about the market for content labeling today. One observation is that this market is extraordinarily dynamic. Many of the filtering companies discussed in this case study are one to three years old. Some of the companies will likely go out of business, or be purchased or bought by larger content or infrastructure organizations - as has happened with SurfWatch.
The dynamic nature of the market leads one to realize the importance of relationships between the companies discussed. Relationships are key. It is imperative that RSAC firmly entrench itself in the chaotic flow of information by developing strong relationships with content producers and distributors. Without this, RSAC would lose the ability to capitalize on the increasing returns of mind share created by leveraging its position at multiple points in the flow of content or in its relationships with dominant players.
Finally, the role of the international market may be significant. However, there may be a danger of attempting to be everything to everybody with respect to content rating at the International level.
The following is a list of companies and products in the content labeling and filtering market. Some information may have been taken directly from the Web site.
SurfWatch is an independent software product which blocks information being received by the computer. The application uses a local database of URL's, IRC Channels, words and phrases which have questionable material. When a child tries to access any of the sites in the database they are blocked by SurfWatch. These are the common features of the application:
* Screens for newsgroups likely to contain sexually explicit material
* Keeps a computer from accessing specified World Wide Web,
* FTP, Gopher, Chat and other sites
* Subscription automatically updates blocked site list
* Customized site databases are available
Cost: $49.95 per copy, Subscriptions are $5.95 per month
SafeSurf, like RSAC, acts as a software rating agent. The SafeSurf Rating Standard is a PICS compliant voluntary system for rating information. Filtering software companies such as Solid Oak Software, NetNanny, Rated PG, Teachersoft and CyberPatrol have implemented filters using the SafeSurf Rating Standard.
Net Nanny is similar to SurfWatch. It is a software program which allows one to monitor/filter information received by the computer. NetNanny will handle specific URLs, news groups, IRC channels, FTP sites, words, phrases, email addresses, as well as control access to portions of the internal hard disk and CD-ROM drive.
CYBERsitter work similarly to NetNanny and SurfWatch. Parents can choose to block, block and alert, or simply alert them when access is attempted to certain areas. CYBERsitter includes a bad sites list of1000's of World Wide Web sites that are not suitable for children.
Cost: Single user copies of CYBERsitter are priced at $39.95 US and are available directly from Solid Oak Software as well as from many computer, software, and discount stores
Cyber Patrol's block list is large at over 7,500 Internet resources. Cyber Patrol also includes time and budget management software to help manage a families "on-line budget." Cyber Patrol includes built-in support for the standard ratings systems including SafeSurf and PICS.
Cost: Cyber Patrol Home Edition, the basic Internet filtering component of Cyber Patrol, is available to home users free of charge.
Net Shepherd is another software tool for rating and filtering access to World Wide Web sites. "Net Shepherd prevents children, students, or employees from accessing areas of the Internet deemed inappropriate or unproductive." Net Shepherd allows the creation of custom rating services and databases. These personal ratings can then be volunteered to Net Shepherd who will tally your ratings with others to come up with a system reflecting the opinions of the majority of the services users.
The Internet Filter is a program that monitors, filters, analyzes, and logs Internet access.
A comprehensive Internet scanner
The ability to scan, block, or log all data transfers including:
World Wide Web pages
Specific types of messages within any newsgroup
Specific Internet hosts that are known to have forbidden Internet Relay Chat (IRC) sessions.
The ability to immediately E-mail the parents if specific access violations occur
iScreen works like SurfWatch and Net Nanny except that it does not use a local copy of the ratings. Instead the application connects to the ratings database each time the software is used. iScreen! Uses it own rating system with over fifteen categories: sex, nudity, violence, profanity, hatred, obscenity, mature themes, text & literature, gambling, games, advertising, religion, politics, cartoon violence, alt. lifestyles, file types, usage controls.
NewViews' employees rate the content of each site manually using strictly defined criteria. NewView is one of the founding members of PICS.
Cost: Customers can use supported beta versions of the iscreen!service at no charge. Customers will be notified when the full featured, iscreen! service is activated. At that time, customers have the option of subscribing for the consumer service for an annual fee of $39.95.
 See http://rsac.org/
 Schepp, Debra and Schepp, Brad. KIDNET: The Kid's Guide to Surfing Through Cyberspace (Harper/Perennial/December 12, 1995.)
 See National Research Council. Realizing the Information Future: The Internet and Beyond. (National Academy Press, Washington, DC., 1994.)
 See the EFF "Censorship - Martin Rimm/CMU/Time & Related Anti-Porn Hysteria" Archive
 And our usage of these terms is with the understanding that no system is completely without bias or arbitrariness.
 See http://www.esrb.org/index.html .
 Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA).
 Two other content proposals schemes were Voluntary Internet Self Rating by Alex Stewart
and NetRate by Peter Wayner.
 Netscape's Proxy Server also allowed one to discriminate on the sites it would fetch information from.
 The full roster includes: Apple, America Online, AT&T, Center for Democracy and Technology, CompuServe, IBM, IHPEG, Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), Interactive Services Association, MCI, Microsoft, MIT/W3C, Netscape Communications Corp., Open Market, Prodigy Services Co., Progressive Networks, Providence Systems/Parental Guidance, SafeSurf, Spyglass, SurfWatch Software, Time Warner and Viacom's Nickelodeon.
 "Rob Glaser, IHPEG founder and Progressive Networks president, became the chairman of PICSÉ PICS is organized into two committees. The PICS Technology Committee is co-chaired by Dr. James S. Miller, research scientist with MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science, and Dr. Paul Resnick, member of technical staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories. The PICS Public Policy/Communications Committee is co-chaired by Brian R. Ek, vice president of public affairs for Prodigy, and Daniel J. Weitzner, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. The four co-chairs, along with Messrs. Glaser and Vezza, form the PICS Steering Committee."
 Example taken from PICS: Internet Access Controls Without Censorship at
 Though many large media companies would like to do so.
 SurfWatch has been among the most successful in developing partnerships at multiple points.
 The relationships may be looked at as more of a plumbing system made of reservoirs (containing a variety of liquids), conduits (with a variety of delivery capacities, operating pressures, and flow rates) and control systems (upstream versus downstream regulation), with filtering mechanisms interposed at various points in the plumbing.
 James Mackintosh. Internet Provider to Launch Censorship. Financial Times, May 6, 1996.
 See (RISKS-17.79) and (RISKS-17.81) for the descriptions of when such services blocked the white house web site because of the mention of "couples" - the Clintons! Also, NYNEX's pages describing ISDN services were blocked because of the existence of "xxx" in the URL. AOL has had many serious problems of blocking legitimate content. For instance, users from the British town of "Scunthorpe" must lie about where they are from (it is allegedly a dirty word elsewhere) and conferences for those affected by breast cancer were eliminated when AOL decided to ban the word "breast."
19 However, charging on the basis of which PICS functionality is supported may damage relationships with the PICS and labeling community.
 Since the burdon of trademark protection is on that of the trademark owner, every attempt should be made to defend one's trademark. The use of digital signatures may provide evidence of this defense if RSAC's trademarks were ever questioned.
 Another potential problem with respect to digital signatures is the significant controversy regarding restrictions governments place on encrypytion technologies.
 See discussions of the generally ridiculed -L18 proposal at:
 In Singapore, one can be sent to jail for making a long distance phone call to an unapproved Internet access point.