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RE: Agent-mediated access, kidcode critiques, and community standards

From: <bede@scotty.mitre.org>
Date: Tue, 20 Jun 1995 23:33:41 -0400
Message-Id: <199506210333.XAA01202@scotty.mitre.org>
To: www-talk@www10.w3.org
I may have missed it, but a missing element in the thread so far
seems to be economics.  I think some people are assuming that
information will remain free, and therefore "universally" accessible
(e.g., accessible to 8-year-olds) indefinitely.  The existing
situation will change dramatically as soon as viable commerce
protocols are deployed widely, and this *will* happen within a couple
of years.  Think in terms your 8-year-old carrying a couple of bucks
for school lunch and a couple of digibucks on the PCMCIA smart card
for commercial-free Power Rangers (or whatever) during recess.  Your
school taxes will pay the Internet/NII access provider, but you'll
still have to pay for information and entertainment ("infotainment"?)
services incrementally.  Obviously, these smart cards will need to
carry ID and cryptographic keys as well as digibucks if they are to be
remotely useful.  Cards like this are already appearing, minus the
digibucks --- check out the NSA's FORTEZZA card for an example.

Most, if not all, of the free sexy Internet stuff (digitized images,
mostly, it seems) causing some frantic pre-election-year posturing in
the U.S. Congress will probably no longer be free, or even cheap,
assuming only trustworthy commerce protocols with strong (possibly
card-based) authentication backing them up.  In essence, many kids
could quickly be priced out of the "adult" market with no further
action on our part now.  I won't defend this claim any further, but I
feel it's a factor we need to keep in mind.

Getting back to the thread, though, I'll have to vote for an HTTP
header for rating information (to support "KidCode" or whatever)
primarily because the "rating" of a document, whether it's for sexual
content, violence, use of "adult" language, military security, etc, is
not properly part of the document itself, but is a highly context-
dependent judgement about the document.  It's tempting to say this
judgement is also "subjective", but this is not always true.

Clearly, in some cases you could embed some hints about various
content-related aspects of the document as markup of some kind (even
as comments) but you'd normally be inserting this markup long before
delivering the document to a consumer -- and the details of delivery
can be an important part of the context for deciding on a rating.  For
example, as we know, some southern U.S. states have markedly more
conservative "community standards" than, say, Los Angeles, California.
What's considered "PG" in some communities is fodder for prosecution
and prison in others.  Some servers may choose to apply varying
standards to content rating, for reasons having nothing to do with
assumed delivery destinations.  You simply can't account for wild
inconsistencies in "community standards" beforehand, and this seems to
reduce the status of embedded content ratings to hints.

How a server arrives at a rating can't be part of our protocol
spec, and we can't even anticipate the complete set of possibilities
for ratings themselves, but we need to allow for a content-rating
header and have a loose spec formalized (e.g., "7-bit ASCII text...")
for its argument field(s) and what the default assumptions to make
should be when the header is absent, out-of-spec or unintelligible.
The argument field(s) for the header could be something you solicit
from publishers or try to adopt from known standard practice (if any)
at the presumed destination site for the delivery.  For our immediate
purpose, though, we need only provide the space for the arguments
without further specifying them.

I completely disagree with the notion that "unrated" implies anything
stronger than simply "not rated by anyone".  We really can't get into a
position where we'd effectively force every author and HTTP server to
explicitly rate the content of every miserable little embedded image
and every document.  The grounds for rejecting material for viewing at
the client have to be concrete, based on the unambiguous presence of a
restriction, not the mere absence of one.

Servers could themselves be rated, of course, rather than documents.
This is not something supported in the existing infrastructure, but
it wouldn't be hard to add.  I doubt this would eliminate the demand
for content rating of some kind.

- Bede McCall   <bede@mitre.org>

  The MITRE Corporation            Tel: (617) 271-2839
  Bedford, Massachusetts           FAX: (617) 271-2423
Received on Tuesday, 20 June 1995 23:33:43 UTC

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