The World Wide Web Consortium standards body has endorsed the Platform for Internet Content Selection protocol for customized filtering of online materials.
The PICS standard, created in response to widespread fears about children's ability to find sexually explicit or violent content on the Internet, allows organizations and individual users to create their own ratings systems, filtering out content they find objectionable.
Many software makers have already rolled out PICS-compliant data filtering tools, such as SurfWatch, CyberPatrol and SafeSurf. Commercial online services including America Online Inc., CompuServe and Prodigy, along with AT&T; Corp.'s WorldNet Internet access service, provide content filtering tools set to be PICS-compliant by the end of this year.
"PICS establishes Internet conventions for label formats and distribution methods, without dictating a labeling vocabulary," said Jim Miller, co-chair of the W3C's PICS Technical Committee. "It is analogous to specifying where on a package a label should appear, and in what font it should be printed, without specifying what it should say," Miller said.
The standards body agreed on the filtering standard after ensuring that it provides an effective alternative to government censorship of the Internet, W3C officials said.
The W3C is a joint project of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Laboratory for Computer Science in Cambridge, Mass., the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control, and Keio University in Japan.
More information on PICS is available at www.w3.org/PICS/. Information about the W3C can be found at www.w3.org/.