W3C NOTE-PICS-Statement-19980601

Statement on the Intent and Use of PICS:
Using PICS Well

W3C NOTE 01-June-1998

Latest Version:
This version:
Previous Version:


  • Stephen Balkam, President, Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC)
  • Tim Berners-Lee, Director, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
  • Alan Kotok, Associate Chairman, W3C
  • Jim Miller, Co-Chair of PICS Technical Committee, Lab for Computer Science, MIT
  • Martin Presler-Marshall, Editor/Co-author PICSRules, IBM
  • Joseph Reagle, Policy Analyst, W3C
  • Paul Resnick, Chair, PICS Interest Group; School of Information, University
    of Michigan
  • David Singer, Co-Author, PICS Rating Services and Rating Systems, IBM
  • Ray Soular, Co-Founder, SafeSurf Wave Inc.
  • Daniel J. Weitzner, Deputy Director, Center for Democracy and Technology

[Those interested in becoming signatories after this is posted as a note will likely be listed on a separate page.]

Status of This Document

This document describes the intent of PICS development and recommends guidelines regarding the responsible use of PICS technology. While it is relevant to the PICS specifications it was not created as part of the PICS Working Groups (which are closed). However, it was submitted for review to the W3C Policy and PICS Interest Groups before publication. It has no official W3C standing. Comments to the editors or endorsements are welcome.

The signatories state the following with respect to the intent, and usage of PICS (all PICS specifications):


In August of 1995, leading members of the Internet community came together to begin the development of technical specifications that would enable users to 1) easily find appropriate content and 2) avoid content that they consider inappropriate or unwanted, either for themselves or their children. These specifications were designed to ease the creation of, and access to, labeling schemes (and associated content selection and filtering mechanisms), allowing various people or organizations to label Web content in ways that best suit their different viewpoints. The PICS specifications were not intended to be limited to applications regarding potentially offensive content. Rather, it was hoped that PICS would be used for many purposes, such as third-party ratings on the timeliness and technical accuracy of a site's content.

Final technical specifications were completed in early 1996. Since then PICS has been incorporated into a number of products, a variety of PICS-based rating services have been (and continue to be) developed for the web, and a number of stand-alone filtering tools are PICS-compatible.

Many who were involved in the creation of PICS recognized that the World Wide Web provides access to an extraordinary range of content, some of which some people consider either inappropriate, unwanted, or harmful for some users, especially children. The global nature of the Web, and the fact that it serves numerous communities with a great diversity of values, suggested that national, or even international laws restricting certain kinds of speech on the Web would neither be effective nor necessarily desirable for the Web. Instead, PICS was developed to accommodate a wide range of communities online.

The original PICS proposers based their work on a general set of principles, detailed below. In the time since PICS and other content selections tools have been deployed on the web, much has been learned about the use of PICS-based techniques. This note builds on those Principles a set of functional guidelines for implementing PICS-based components of the Web infrastructure, PICS rating services, and PICS-based content selection tools to assure that they are designed in a manner that comports with the original PICS Principles and the free flow of information on the Web.

Restatement of PICS Principles

The original 22+ organizations that proposed the PICS Specifications also adopted the following statement of principles to guide their work:

We believe that individuals, groups and businesses should have easy access to the widest possible range of content selection products, and a diversity of voluntary rating systems.

In order to advance its goals, PICS will devise a set of standards that facilitate the following:

enable content providers to voluntarily label the content they create and distribute.
Third-party rating:
enable multiple, independent labeling services to associate additional labels with content created and distributed by others. Services may devise their own labeling systems, and the same content may receive different labels from different services.
enable users, parents and teachers to use ratings and labels from a diversity of sources to control the information that they or children under their supervision receive.

PICS members believe that an open labeling platform which incorporates these features provides the best way to preserve and enhance the vibrancy and diversity of the Internet. Easy access to technology which enables first and third party rating of content will give users maximum control over the content they receive without requiring new restrictions on content providers.

Guidelines for the Usage of PICS

In addition to the principles above, we recommend that systems and services based on PICS ought to be implemented with the following guidelines in mind. These guidelines promote the principles of diversity, disclosure, control, and transparency.

Other Documents