To: Michael Baker <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear GILC members,
Thank you for your letter regarding PICSRules. I appreciate your concerns. Whilst
I tend personally to share them at the level of principle, I do not believe that the
PICSRules technology presents, on balance, a danger rather than a boon to society.
I can also affirm that the intent of the initiative is certainly not as a tool for government
control, but as a tool for user control, which will indeed reduce the pressure for
The PICSRules specification is being released as a Recommendation, following the
guidance of W3C staff and consensus among our Members. We have added an
introduction to the specification to better explain the purposes of the specification.
I quote from that introduction here.
"The purposes for a common profile language are:
-- Sharing and installation of profiles. Sophisticated profiles may be difficult for
end-users to specify, even through well-crafted user interfaces. An organization
can create a recommended profile for children of a certain age. Users who trust
that organization can install the profile rather than specifying one from scratch. It
will be easy to change the active profile on a single computer, or to carry a profile
to a new computer.
-- Communication to agents, search engines, proxies, or other servers. Servers
of various kinds may wish to tailor their output to better meet users' preferences,
as expressed in a profile. For example, a search service can return only links that
match a user's profile, which may specify criteria based on quality, privacy, age
suitability, or the safety of downloadable code.
-- Portability between filtering products. The same profile will work with any
The first goal is especially important. One-click configuration by end-users is crucial
to the original PICS vision of diverse rating services and end-user empowerment.
Your letter suggests that the expressive power of PICSRules is at odds with the goal
of end-user control, but quite the opposite is true. Without an interchange format
like PICSRules, it will continue to be too difficult for most end users to set filtering.
This could lead to a tendency for users to simply rely upon the default options
provided to them. Or, it could lead to government efforts to legislate about those
It is important to distinguish between filtering itself and the availability of a common
language for expressing filtering preferences. The former already exists, in firewalls,
proxy servers, and PC-based filtering products. PICSRules provides a common
language. This specification essentially has no effect on how easy it is to implement
filtering, but does make it easier to send filtering preferences from one computer
to another. I believe this will encourage diverse communities to use the Web
and increase the visibility of filtering decisions. It will allow an individual to decide
whom to trust, and use filtering, if at all, advisedly.
Discussion about the best use of labeling and filtering technologies is critical; the
W3C will continue to be an active participant in these discussions. I also believe,
that, while this technology is the best path from this point on, that vigilance of
groups such as yours in how it is deployed and used, and the actual behavior of
industry and governments, is very important. So, I thank you for your contribution
for the discussion.
PS: Some personal comments on the philosophy of these matters are at
World Wide Web Consortium
MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, 545 Technology Square, Cambridge MA