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

From: James C Deikun <jcdst10+@pitt.edu>
Date: Wed, 21 Jun 1995 17:25:09 -0400 (EDT)
To: bede@scotty.mitre.org
Cc: www-talk@www10.w3.org
Message-Id: <Pine.3.89.9506211727.A2084-0100000@unixs1.cis.pitt.edu>

On Tue, 20 Jun 1995 bede@scotty.mitre.org wrote:

> 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

It's possible (and IMHO perhaps desirable) that there not be any school 
taxes in a few years, at least in some areas.  But that's a different 

> still have to pay for information and entertainment ("infotainment"?)
> services incrementally.

This would be true in some places, but would it be true universally?  
Even in the paper market there are loads of free flyers and 'zines 
floating about.

>                          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.

Why can't these cards be useful without ID and crypto-keys?  Do you have 
to show someone your drivers' license to purchase gum at a 7-11?  
Cigarettes, maybe, but gum, no.  Why should this be different for 

> 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.

I don't know about that.  Lots of such pictures were available free, on 
free BBSes, long before internet access became nearly as widespread as it 
is.  Some people just won't care to charge for the stuff, and for things 
in the public domain I doubt they'll be able to get more than pennies anyway.

>                                              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.

What you said seems to be more in support of rating through URCs rather 
than HTTP headers.  This would also mirror the ratings situation in real 
life--movies and such are rated by third parties, not by their 
publishers.  Sometimes these ratings are distributed by the publishers 
(like MPAA ratings for movies) and other times they are not (various 
family values organizations telling people not to watch NYPD Blue).  The 
first of these models, though, becomes increasingly infeasible to handle 
when there are more than a few publishers, and the Web will allow more 
publishers to exist than ever before.

> 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.

This suggests the idea of community-maintained URC servers.

> 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.

Which they were never more than anyway, really, considering the ability 
of people to misperceive and/or lie.

> 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.

This way of 'supplying the space' is only applicable to HTTP.

> 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.

That depends.  It probably wouldn't be a good idea for elementary schools to 
allow unrated material to be viewed from their machines.

> 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.

Rating by server simply isn't granular enough.

James "URC" Deikun
Received on Wednesday, 21 June 1995 17:28:46 UTC

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