Recreational Software Advisory Council Launches Objective, Content-Labeling Advisory System for the Internet

RSACi system praised by industry as empowering parents and consumers while preserving free speech on the Internet


Cambridge, MA -- February 28, 1996 -- The Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC) today announced the launch of RSACi, or RSAC on the Internet, an objective, content-labeling advisory system that empowers parents and consumers to make informed choices about what they and their children experience on the Internet. RSACi leverages the non-profit organization's experience in developing a content rating system for the computer games industry.

"The Internet has tremendous potential for children, families and classrooms, yet concerns over offensive content and the resulting threat of government censorship will surely slow the growth of this powerful medium if not resolved by an industry-led body," said Stephen Balkam, executive director of RSAC. "The RSACi system was developed to provide parents and consumers with objective, detailed information about the content of an Internet site, allowing them to make informed decisions regarding site access for themselves and their children."

As of April 1, the RSACi rating system will be available to Web masters at no charge on RSAC's web site. The RSACi rating system is a fully-automated, paperless system that relies on a quick, easy-to-use questionnaire that the Web master completes at RSAC's home page. 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.

Once completed, the questionnaire is then submitted electronically to the RSAC Web Server, which tabulates the results and produces the html advisory tags that the Web master then places on their Web site/page. A standard Internet browser, or blocking device that has been configured to read the RSACi system can recognize these tags, enabling parents who use the browser to either allow or restrict their children's access to any single rating or combination of ratings.

Rather than simply authorizing an advisory for a web site, the RSACi system offers the ability to go into a web site and rate new "pages" as well as separate pages within that site, to account for the infinite variation of information located within any given home page. "Thus, the high school student would be able to gain access to he Jimmy Carter interview conducted by Playboy in 1976 at Playboy.com, but not the February Playmate of the month," added Balkam.

The original RSAC rating system was developed in September 1994 by a team of academics, psychologists and educators, in direct response to the threat of congressional legislation that sought to control levels of violence in the computer game market. With the recent passage of federal legislation prohibiting the transmittal of offensive, or indecent, materials over the Internet, RSAC has extended this proven ratings system to the Internet to provide consumers with objective detail regarding Web site content.

"We took as our model the Nutritional Facts food labels that are now so pervasive," said Dr. Donald Roberts, Chairman of the Communications Department at Stanford University and RSAC Board Member. "Just as the labels relay the precise content of those products -- without making a judgment as to who should or should not be eating them -- so too is the RSACi content advisory system for the Internet. By providing information about the content of a given site, parents will now be able to make a determination as to whether or not their child should explore that information, or move on to another site."

"Because the RSACi system both relies on the Web masters to provide content detail and uses a straightforward, automated questionnaire and advisory system, there is strong potential for widespread adoption within the fast-paced, rapidly-expanding Internet market," said Professor C. Dianne Martin of George Washington University and President of the RSAC Board of Directors.

Support for An Industry-Led Content Advisory System Continues to Grow

"The First Amendment is about the fundamental right of all Americans to decide what they and their children read, see and hear," commented Daniel J. Weitzner, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "The RSACi system combined with PICS implementations on the Internet help people to make those choices and avoid having the choices made by the government."

RSACi is compatible with the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) standard, the industry-recognized standard for all rating and advisory systems to be used on the Web.

"Microsoft believes in empowering parents to protect their children, while respecting the right to freedom of speech," said Brad Chase, general manager in Microsoft Internet Platform Division. "Our work with the RSAC and other industry leaders, combined with Microsoft Internet Explorer's ability to support any PICS-compliant rating system, offers parents and educators a complete technology solution."

"The RSACi system's evolution from the successful ratings system used by the software game industry bodes well for its chances in the fast-paced Internet field," said Brian Ek, Vice President of Government Affairs at Prodigy. "By providing consumers with objective detail regarding site content, the RSACi system protects not only consumers, but is an impressive response to legislative demands for an industry-led content advisory system."

According to Fred Cooke, director of external affairs for Bell Atlantic Internet Solutions, "Bell Atlantic believes that it is ultimately more judicious and inherently fair to have parents making decisions about what content is acceptable for children, rather than companies or the government."

Marcy Kelly, President of Mediascope, an non-profit public policy organization which has published a major study on ratings noted, "The RSACi solution is one that parents and consumers should be pleased to see unveiled. This kind of open, objective advisory content system effectively addresses parental concerns about some of the content available of the Internet, and it does so in a way that does not interfere with freedom of speech."

The Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC) is an independent, non-profit organization that empowers the public, especially parents, to make informed decisions about electronic media by means of an open, objective, content advisory system. RSAC's system provides consumers with information about the level of sex, nudity, violence, offensive language (vulgar or hate-motivated) in software games and Web sites.

RSAC currently provides a non-judgmental, voluntary content-labeling system to the computer games industry, having rated more than 350 games from over 90 companies. RSAC's system is now under evaluation as a possible solution to the current debate over television programming content disclosure and use of the v-chip.

For more information, visit RSAC's home page at http://www.rsac.org.

Additional Contacts:

Pat Arcand / Carolyn Wilkins
Copithorne & Bellows PR

For more information on the PICS effort please contact Jim Miller, jmiller@w3.org
Created 01 March 1996
Last updated 01 March 1996