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1. Mission
To develop, implement and manage an internationally acceptable voluntary self-rating system which provides Internet users world wide with the choice to limit access to content they consider harmful, especially to children.


Top of page] 2. Background
The Internet continues to grow at an exponential rate both in North America and increasingly in other regions of the world. The Internet is by definition a global network accessible from anywhere in the world and by increasing numbers of people in countries outside the US.

Although it is accepted that the US is in the vanguard of such developments, and that business use is spearheading the adoption for ever more efficient ways of trading, consumer use of the Internet around the world is set for extensive growth in the next few years. The research organisation Nua’s latest Internet survey suggests that there are currently 151 million online users around the world. This figure is expected to grow to over 350 million by the end of the year 2000.

Figure 1: Proportion of Total online users by region

An increasing proportion of Internet users are children, accessing the net from home, from school, local libraries and public places such as cyber cafes. Governments around the world have struggled to balance the legitimate need of protecting children when online, while also protecting the free speech rights of content providers.


Top of page] 3. Protection of Children on the Net
Material that is potentially harmful to children exists on the Internet and is easily accessible. The Internet industry has responded to this problem with a wide array of filtering and blocking devices which enable parents, teachers and others concerned adults to screen out unwanted sites

Governments in many parts of the world are concerned about illegal and harmful material on the Internet and are considering ways to legislate or to encourage self-rating systems to develop. For the time being, most governments have been persuaded to delay hasty legislation that might restrict the growth of this new medium and, instead, promote the emergence of self-regulatory schemes that could provide a more flexible and workable solution

This would suggest that either the Internet industry finds ways to improve self-regulation or the potential for government intervention increases. For example in Europe, in 1997, the European Ministerial Conference issued the following statement outlining its belief in the role of the private sector in content management:

" Ministers stress the role which the private sector can play in protecting the interests of consumers and in promoting and respecting ethical standards, through properly-functioning systems of self regulation in compliance with and supported by the legal system. Ministers encourage industry to implement open, platform independent content rating systems, and to propose rating services which meet the needs of different users and take account of Europe’s cultural and linguistic diversity. They note that the EU Council Resolution of 17 February 1997 on illegal and harmful content on the Internet strongly supports such an approach."
(EU Ministerial Conference, Bonn 6-8 July 1997)

In the United States, Vice President Al Gore has championed the active involvement of industry in self-regulatory efforts to protect children from potentially harmful content on the Internet. At the second White House Internet Summit in December 1997, Vice President Gore stated:

" Our challenge is to make these blocking technologies and the accompanying rating systems as common as the computers themselves."

The World Wide Web Consortium’s development of the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS see has opened up a new range of possibilities for consumers to customise their experience of the Net. Describing or rating content in site-based labels allows consumers to select, or de-select (filter) content according to their own settings in their browser.

The additional refinement of making the rating an objective description of the site contents allows consumers with different cultural and individual standards to apply their own subjective judgements through their browser settings. The prospect of an internationally acceptable rating and filtering system is opened up.

With a system based on voluntary rating by content providers and voluntary use of the filters in their browser by consumers, there are no barriers to publication or access to published material by adults. Free speech is preserved on the Internet, while children can be protected according to the standards that their parents determine. This approach is used by the current RSACi content rating system where webmasters self-rate using a detailed questionnaire and parents set the levels of acceptable content within their browser.


Top of page] 4. The World’s Leading Rating System
ICRA has brought together a new funding regime and the best rating system currently available. It holds the intellectual property rights, name, trademarks and logos of the Recreational Software Advisory Council’s Internet rating system, RSACi.

RSACi is recognised as a leading system in its US home and has been widely adopted outside of the US, particularly in Europe. Independent evaluations by, eg, the Internet Watch Foundation in the UK and by the Bertelsmann Foundation (for the Carl Bertelsmann prize in 1998) have identified it as the best system available.

RSACi is a PICS-based, content-labelling system which is open, transparent to users and free for both content providers and parents alike. Over 100,000 sites have rated with RSACi world-wide, including a great number of the top 100 sites which account for 80% of the web’s traffic. Its distinctive logo can be found on thousands of web sites and is one of the most recognised and trusted logos on the web.

RSACi’s parental controls are built in to both Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Netscape’s Navigator making RSACi freely available to 95% of Internet users. It is the only system integrated into both of the world’s leading browsers and the parental controls have been translated into most of the world’s major languages.


Top of page] 5. International Development
For the past two years RSAC has been working closely with a number of international partners to truly internationalise its award-winning rating system. Together with the Internet Watch Foundation(UK), Childnet International, the Electronic Commerce Forum in Germany and the Australian Broadcast Authority, RSAC helped to establish the International Working Group on Content Rating. Out of the work of the IWGCR has come the ICRA initiative, to develop a consultation process and timetable for designing a new rating system based on RSAC over this next year (1999/2000).

This core group has attracted the attention, sponsorship and support of a number of leading international Internet and communications companies as well as major non-profit institutions to support the work of building an internationally acceptable rating system and to take on the governance and management of the system itself. Realising the extraordinary opportunity to expand its reach and scope, the RSAC Board decided to transfer the assets of RSAC (including the RSACi system) to the newly constituted Internet Content Rating Association. A number of the leading RSAC Board members will join the ICRA Board and the existing RSAC staff, including Stephen Balkam, its President, will become ICRA employees.


Top of page] 6. Original Members
ICRA has been formed with the backing of some of the world’s best known Internet and communications companies including: These and other prospective companies will pay US$25K for each seat on the new ICRA Board up to a maximum of four seats. Apart from their financial contributions, members bring first-class experience in the fields of Internet service, content provision, telecommunications, and browser technology. These companies and organisations are demonstrating to their users and to governments around the world, that they take their corporate responsibility seriously and are willing to actively participate in an exemplary model of self-regulation.

The new organisation has already established a sound basis of financial support and managerial direction from many of the leading Internet players in the world. It started from a meeting of European based organisations including: AOL Bertelsmann, the Bertelsmann Foundation, Microsoft (Europe), British Telecom, Euro-ISPA (the European association of associations of ISPs), the Internet Watch Foundation and T-online, each of which is committed to one or more contributions of US$25,000.

This is expanded with further commitments and expressions of interest from North America, Europe and Japan. The original target of $300,000 was already secured by the launch date. The new organisation is also retaining the membership and experience of at least four of the former RSAC Management Board and its two key staff.

Apart from their financial participation, members already involved bring world-leader experience in the fields of Internet service and content provision, telecommunications and browser technology.


Top of page] In Brief
ICRA combines all the ingredients of building a new international rating and filtering system that will set the world standard for protecting children on line.


Top of page] 8. The Opportunity Now
With the new company formed and the RSACi rights acquired, the current ICRA members are inviting new members to join in this important and vital venture.

For the first six months (April to September 1999) the opportunity to join as a Founding Member remains open to all interested companies and organisations.

New founding members will have an opportunity to participate in the crucial early decision-making which will shape this new organisation, and the direction of the world’s leading content rating system for the next decade.


Top of page] 9. Legal and Financial Issues
ICRA has been established as a company limited by guarantee registered in the UK with charitable purposes. This places the organisation in an excellent position to attract European Union funding and to benefit from substantial tax benefits. It is anticipated that in addition to membership fees, ICRA will apply for government grants and programs all around the world.

Membership of ICRA is set at US$25,000 a year with a limit of four memberships per company. Each membership allows the company or organisation one seat on the ICRA Board. Subscribers contributing in the first six months will be accredited "Founding Member" status.


Top of page] 10. Principles
Finally, ICRA will operate and base its future direction on an agreed set of Principles that have been accepted and adopted by the Founding Members. These can be seen below: The Internet Content Rating Association is committed to developing a rating system, which is appropriate for international use. In our view ratings will be most effective as a tool by which users, especially parents, can protect minors from unsuitable content if a critical mass of content can be rated. The purpose of the rating system is to empower users freely to choose the material they want to see, while protecting free speech and avoiding government intervention. The decision to self-rate should be at the discretion of content creators and publishers. For a global system to operate within many different cultural contexts the rating must be as objective and culturally non-specific as possible. It is our view that a descriptive labeling of content by the provider, with all subjective judgements about suitability being made by the receiver, is the best way to achieve this. The international rating system should be easy to understand and easy to use, especially as many parents know little about computers, often much less than their children. It should be free for users. We envisage that particular settings of the browser controls will be developed on a local basis so that parents can easily set their selection criteria by applying a familiar national or community standard a locally produced "profile". The success of an international rating system will also depend on the support of content providers in voluntarily rating their sites. For this reason it should be not-for-profit, easy to use, automated and easily able to deal with updates and changes to a site. A voluntary, self-rating system has the potential to create a critical mass of labeled sites. However it will be important to incorporate sufficient quality controls within the system to ensure that it maintains credibility with users, governments and content providers. The new rating system should be based on broad categories of community concerns, such as sex, violence, nudity and language, along with others, which may be identified through an international consultative process. The categories, levels and definitions should be consistent with the current RSACi system, in order to maintain continuity and maximize the number of readily rated sites. With the range of new services available on the Internet expanding at an exponential rate, the system developed must be as adaptable as possible to ensure that it can interact with new services as they emerge. As far as possible the rating software will be kept reverse compatible with previous versions, including the current RSACi version.


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This document sets out the origins, structure, mission and program of a new international organisation established to create a universally acceptable rating and filtering system for Internet content. It makes the case for world players in telecommunications, multi-media, Internet service and content industries to join a high-profile effort to simultaneously preserve free speech and protect children on-line.

© Internet Content Rating Association 2000
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