Danny Yee >> Internet Censorship in Australia >> Labelling

Netscape adds RSACi support: a response

>   Recreational Software Advisory Council
>   Netscape Communicator Users Gain Ability to Monitor Content Viewed by
>   Children With NetWatch
>   Washington, D.C. - June 17, 1998 - The Recreational Software Advisory
>   Council (RSAC) today announced that Netscape Communications Corporation
>   (NASDAQ: NSCP) will integrate RSAC's objective, Internet content
>   advisory system into its market-leading client software. Working as a
>   part of Netscape's recently announced NetWatch feature in Netscape
>   Navigator 4.5, RSAC's rating system for the Internet (RSACi) will
>   provide parents and consumers with an advanced tool to monitor the
>   content viewed by their children on the World Wide Web. NetWatch is a
>   feature of Netscape's Smart Browsing(tm) capabilities and provides a
>   mechanism for screening Internet content, allowing control over Web page
>   viewing so users access only the Internet content they want to see.

This last statement is blatantly false. RSACi + NetWatch provides no way for users to only access the content they want to. What they do is allow users to turn the decision over what content they (and their children) access to other people, which is *not* the same thing at all.

As for the claim that RSACi is "objective"... ROTFL!

>   RSACi is a PICS-compliant (Platform for Internet Content Selection)
>   system that provides labels to Web masters based on a detailed
>   questionnaire regarding the level, nature and intensity of the sex,
>   nudity, violence or offensive language (vulgar or hate-motivated) found
>   on a particular Web site. 

RSACi is a totally bankrupt and morally indefensible system. It makes no allowances *whatsoever* for literary, artistic, scientific, or political material. It is incapable, for example, of distinguishing fine art or medical data from "pornography", sex education from X-rated video, news reports of military action from horror movies, and so forth. It is also incapable of drawing any sensible distincton between textual and graphic depictions (the string "he raped her" on a web page will get the same "violence" and "sex" rating as a 90 minute video segment depicting the same, losing out only in the "nudity" category).

Suggested reading:

>   By integrating the RSACi rating system into
>   Netscape Communicator's NetWatch system, Netscape users can now
>   anticipate Internet content and block any materials they deem
>   inappropriate or offensive.

Again, this is just false. Users can use a bizarrely narrow set of classification standards idiosyncratically and subjectively applied by the the authors of less than 0.5% of the content on the Web to block material. They can *not* block material they deem inappropriate or offensive. (I find Nike and McDonalds advertising offensive...)

>   Using the NetWatch feature on the Netscape Navigator browser, parents
>   and consumers will be able to select RSACi as the system to set the
>   levels on the amount of nudity, sex, language and violence that they
>   consider appropriate for users in their household. 

Again false. You get to use RSACs bizarre definitions of nudity, sex, language, and violence -- you don't get to use those terms with their ordinary meanings.

Moreover, the definitions make repeated references to "a reasonable person", without any attempt to clarify what on earth (pun intended) that means on a global basis. Entire cultures and subcultures -- all the ones where nakedness is considered normal -- are lumped into the "full-frontal nudity" category by RSACi, with the Hustler centrefolds and the alt.binaries.pictures.erotica archives. The fact that "reasonable adults" in those cultures don't find nudity the least bit unusual or disturbing is totally beyond RSACi's ken -- or that of the puritans and wowsers who created it.

>   "Netscape is committed to empowering the user without diminishing the
>   Internet experience," said Dave Rothschild, vice president of client
>   products at Netscape. "the RSACi advisory system gives Navigator users a
>   tool that will allow them to shape their Internet experiences to fit
>   their own values. Web enthusiasts will be pleased to see that they will
>   have a new tool for anticipating and blocking content they would prefer
>   not to see, 

Web enthusiasts won't be the least bit interested in this "feature". (And I'm eagerly awaiting a version of Mozilla without all the features which make Netscape so bloated -- without mail and news clients, for starters.)

As for the bit about "anticipating"... what on earth does that mean? Is there a mind-reading plugin for Netscape?

>   "We're very pleased that Netscape has chosen to bring the RSACi content
>   advisory system to the Communicator family," said Stephen Balkam,
>   executive director of RSAC. "Given Netscape's commanding presence in the
>   browser market, it's exciting to see the company's commitment to
>   providing users with a reliable tool for controlling Web content through
>   the RSACi content advisory system."

Note the immediate slip. Not "controlling their access to Web content", but "controlling Web content".

>   RSACi empowers parents and consumers to make informed choices about what
>   they and their children experience in cyberspace. 

RSACi provides misleading and confusing information about a mass of third party evaluations of content, thereby making it _harder_ for parents and consumers to make informed choices about what they experience. (The RSACi explanations don't say "select here to block art galleries and news sites".)

>   The RSACi rating
>   system is a fully-automated, Web-based system that relies on a quick,
>   easy-to-use questionnaire that the Web master completes at RSAC's home
>   page [http://www.rsac.org]. The questionnaire runs through a series of
>   highly specific questions about the level, nature and intensity of the
>   sex, nudity, violence or offensive language (vulgar or hate-motivated)
>   found within the Web master's site.

Have a look at this! Please do. Keep a bowl handy in case you have to throw up. If wading through the questions to try and work out how it works is too hard (they don't make it easy), have a look at http://www.antipope.org/charlie/nonfiction/rant/rsaci.html

>   To date, more than 75,000 web sites
>   have rated with the RSACi system, with over 4,000 sites, on average,
>   rating each month.

I have been surveying Australian sites that claim to have rated with RSACi (that carry the "we rated with RSACi logo"). Around 50% have lost their ratings or got the syntax wrong, and maybe 10% -- possibly a lot more, I didn't do a full search of the sites -- have clearly *misrated* their pages, an action which will no doubt carry criminal penalties as soon as the government gets around to producing the legislation. For example, I found an online art gallery that had rated 0 0 0 0, when its *top page* contained a picture of an Aboriginal art work with a depiction of a naked person, which must be rated 4 for nudity according to RSACi.

A personal plea: If someone you know has rated with RSACi, please try and talk them out of it. My RSACi kill tally is now at five. (Of course we probably don't want to kill it *completely* -- it's a good argument against ratings schemes for Net content and it probably serves as an innoculation against less obviously brain-dead schemes.)


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