Internet Content Ratings: It's 2010, and its still broken

What content ratings are all about

The main goal of content ratings, is to allow users, and search engines, to determine the types of content that is on your website so that they can decide if it is right for them.  The three main areas that most content ratings focus on are, child safety, accessibility and suitability for mobile devices (however there are many more content labels that can be placed on your site.)

The main initiative that currently has the most momentum is the protocol for web description resources (POWDER), and powder supersedes platform for internet content selection (PICS). POWDER is a generic method of labeling content, and does not by itself offer any method to label content in a standard way so that programs and people would be able to determine if the content was suitable for them.
The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) has the IRCA (Internet content rating association), and applied it to POWDER.  This meant that the generic method of labeling content, now had specific ways to lable conent for child safe surfing.  Although I have no statistics to prove it,  I think that very few websites actually use this rating system, and if you look a little deeper into the model at FOSI it still relies on a content badge.

Why content ratings are failing
Content badges are a method of adding trust to a website based on a 3rd party organization, who presumably you would trust, and they would offer a badge to specific websites whom they trust, thus allowing you to trust the website, as much as you trust the organization who offers the badge.  You may be familiar with other badges such as BizRate, Verisign, and the Better Business Bureau, that often can be found at the bottom of many commerce sites. 

The problem with badges, is that they cost money.  The organization that supply's the badge, has to police the badge in order for it to be effective.  In order to get the badge, their is usually a cost, in the case of FOSI, the cost to display the badge is a required membership, and according to its website, the least expensive membership is $7,500, and that is absolutely absurd.   Any site that wants to offer safe surfing for children, would have to pay that much just to say they are safe.  I do not wonder why most websites do not have this badge.  

Another point to consider is that unlike ecommerce, where consumers look for the badges, and want to be safe before offering personal information and spending money, there are not that many parents who would refuse to let their children visit, because it does not offer the badge to proclaim it is safe for children. 

Alternatives to POWDER

Another very popular method to offer parents a way to determine if your site is safe is SafeSurf.  SafeSurf offers a way to rate your content, and a plug in for the browser that displays that rating to the parents.  Since its does require a META tag, it does have the ability to be searched by search engines.  But it is still essentially a badge system, however it is free.

I applaud the work that SafeSurf has done, but we are all still waiting for a better way to rate content.  Most websites do not offer content ratings still, and this means that we are still reduced to other methods of trying to decide what content is safe for our children.  Today, much of the web is moving to more a more social model, and this means, that more of the content is user created, and rating it is more difficult.

Content ratings should be easy to use, and must be free

Website developers need a simple free method to rate the content they provide.  Most site developers would agree, that they would like to offer a simple method.  This method must be cross  browser, and should not require any plug-in or 3rd party to work, and it must be free.

This is a very tall order, since without any intermediary, there would be no way to support the policing of the ratings system. 

I suggest, that it would be possible, to crowd source the ratings, if there were a 3rd party, free website that offered the ratings, and they could convince all the browsers to use the rating, similar to how most browsers now show website security for ecommerce, and it did not require any work on the webmaster side.  Google offers something now called sidewiki, and it does require a plug in to work, but it works in a way very similar to how I would envision the rating system to work.  

How it would work
A not for profit website would have to be created, and it would offer functionality to users and webmasters to rate the content of their website.  Browsers would have to be modified to display this rating (and a plug-in could be used to start the process rolling, but it really would need to be replaced by the browser itself showing the rating.)  Websites could also display their ratings using a badge, once they were rated, if they desired to do so, and this may also help to get more support for the content labeling system.

Users who visit a website would see the website's rating (possibly based on the webmasters submission to the 3rd party), or they might see that the site has not yet been rated.  If the choose to, they can then rate the site by answering a few short questions.  This can be done anonymously, or they can choose to have an account with the 3rd party company.

Of course their could be disputes about a websites rating, and this could lead to issues with the circle of trust surrounding the system, but overall I think it would be much better then what is offered now.  I don't want to reinvent the wheel here, and it seems that with content ratings, that has happened many times.  If you know of a better solution, please do let me know. 

To secure the internet for children, just remove all the content

Family Online Safety Institute European Conference 2010

The theme of FOSI's European conference was Putting the Pieces Together: Building a Comprehensive Online Safety Plan.  Topics included securing your online information while engaging in social networking, supervising your kids online and privacy policy topics.

Spokesmen for AT&T and Telefónica, both companies had sponsored the event, commended FOSI for their hard work and dedication.

"As one of the world's largest telecommunications companies with a presence in 25 nations, Telefónica understands the importance of promoting safe and responsible online use, especially for young people," said Julio Linares, CEO of Telefónica. "We commend FOSI's continued dedication to promoting this pressing topic at an international level."

The idea of creating a safe place online for children is something we can all agree on. But when the sponsers are all large ISPs who want to charge for the use of content, things may not always be how they seem.  Cesar Alierta (Telefónica CEO) said that their company had to start to charge google to and other search engines to be used on their networks.  AT&T has also expressed it's desire to create a revenue stream in a similar fashion.  In October of 2009, Jim Cicconi urged families and friends of the company to help them fight the FCC.

We all like the idea of children being safe, but we should also like the idea of having a free and open internet for all.  Large organizations like AT&T and Telefónica certainly can be supportive, but we have to be careful about their influence.  Most people do not want to secure the internet by charging for content that would be characterized as 'unsafe' by large ISPs.

Mac's get Google Chrome 5

Google Chrome 5 for Mac OS was released yesterday, as a stable build.  For mac users, this means they now have another very strong browser to choose from, and as we noted before, IE is starting to loose some market share.

For most mac users in a corporate world, they still have IE installed and in use on their macs, right next to Safari and Firefox, mostly because there are still some sites (most notably Mircosoft Exchange web access) that perform much better with that browser.  However, it's important to note, that browsing the web with that browser is really not the best idea, since it's has no new downloads, and has not been supported by Microsoft for quite some time now.

For security reasons, you should only browse the web with Safari, Firefox or the new choice, Chrome.

This video has links to learning more about Chrome.

Safe browsing!

Internet and Facebook privacy

Here is another post about facebook being insecure.  I thought the author did an excellent job making his point, and yes I am a frog, who's facebook account is more public then I may have thought it to be.   On the more radical side, I am not convinced that I mind.  Certainly, I do not like facebook creating confusing policies about my, or others information, and it has done so, but my debate is not about facebook, it is the more fundamental question, How much do I need to keep private?

Sure I do not want to be stalked, and I do not want to have to worry about strangers.  But the problem is not with those people, the very small minority of people who are malevolent.  The problem is the people who are using the information without realizing that it might harm me.  It is the friends of friends, who are looking the images of me, and making decisions about who I am.  It is the possible co-worker who knows someone I know, and thinks maybe I should not be friends with them, or thinks that I should not be a member of some organization that leads us to try to hide the information in the first place.

It is getting harder to hide those things, and maybe that is a good thing, but how can anyone be sure?  Is supporting the EFF a problem? It might be for some people you know.  What about NRA?  Would that be a problem?  I leave the judgments up to you.

I am not sure if this is the time for you to decide not to be afraid of letting people know who you are, and what you stand for, and if you are sure it is not, there are alternatives.  But I for one, am going to stick with the friends of friends, and see how it turns out.

Computers, Freedom, and Privacy in a Networked Society conference.

The CFP conference has been going on for quite some time now, and although the topics have always been important, it seems more people then ever before are interested in the topic.  If you are in the San Jose area, why not check it out?

One session of interest to me is going to include Brad Templeton, and the session is called "Robots and Civil Liberties". This is about actual robots, not the robots that index the internet.  This is indicative of how robots are becoming a larger part of our world.

Another session is about privacy choices on the internet, and Tim Sarapani, Director of Facebook public policy, will be speaking (tentative at the time of this entry.)  This should be a very interesting session, since there has been so much talk about the privacy settings on Facebook.

Other topics include Healthcare information, mobile phone data, internet privacy, and other hot topics, like the impact of biometrics.  Biometrics was a hot topic not too long ago, when Google goggles were being announced, and people were wondering if you would be able to do facial recognition in real time, using your mobile camera.