As great a tool as is the Internet, we all know it is subject to abuse by unscrupulous persons. As such, we are all concerned with protecting our children from inadvertently accessing web sites with inappropriate content. This page is intended to educate the reader about some of the voluntary rating systems for Internet sites and how to set up your browser to protect your children from accessing inappropriate sites. In order for you to do this, your browser must support the PICS standard. Microsoft Internet Explorer version 3 and later do support this standard as do the more recent versions of Netscape. Opera, Arachnid, Mosaic, older versions of Netscape and several other alternative browsers do not. If you are using a browser that does not support PICS, you will either need to upgrade to the latest version of Netscape or Internet Explorer or use third party software such as Net Nanny, CyberSitter, CyberPatrol, etc. to protect your children from inappropriate content. For a list of such software, visit www.netparents.org. Once there, click on 'Tools and Tips for Parents' and then 'Browsers and Filters'; or click here to go there directly. Alternatively, visit www.udata.com. Both of these sites provide excellent policing tools as well as children's browsers and ISP's.
Click here for instructions to set up Internet Explorer
Click here to read about and download childsafe browsers.
Click Here for press clippings about IRCA
Click here for the New York Times article on globalization of Internet rating Systems
In 1995, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3) began to address the idea of limiting children's access to internet material deemed inappropriate by their parents. This resulted in the development of the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) specification. PICS is not a rating system in itself. It is a set of specifications defining the protocols for others to develop rating systems. A full discussion of the PICS specification can be found at http://www.w3.org/PICS/. From this specification sprung several rating systems with SafeSurf being the first available. Since then, the primary rating systems have been SafeSurf and the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC). It should be noted the RSAC has changed its name and is now know as the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA). It has also expanded its mission to include the entire globe raher than just North America. However, others do exist including European based systems.
It is important to understand these systems are voluntary. If a webmaster does not want to rate his/her site, he/she doesn't have to. Many persons, including the ACLU, still believe this is a form of censorship. As such, not all sites available on the internet are rated. Not to mention there are many people unaware of PICS and internet rating systems. There has also been some concern of persons improperly rating their sites. In other words, a pornography site could rate themselves as being acceptable for children. Fortunately, I have not yet run across any evidence of this happening, not to mention, most of the rating services have processes in place to prevent this from happening. (Go to http://www.wired.com/news/news/technology/story/9176.html to view articles regarding this controversy.) However, it is one reason why children on the internet should be supervised, preferably with the computer in a central location such as the family room. None the less, these rating systems are in place and they do work. Rather than censoring material, they promote filtering of material by the end user. Although an unrated site cannot be filtered, both IE and Netscape 4.x allow you to block these unrated sites as well. More on that later.
To use a rating system with IE 3.x and later, you must download an appropriate ratings file (*.rat) and install it for use with your browser. Following the PICS specification, these files allow you to filter out sensitive material. For example, SafeSurf has a 14 point ratings file addressing nudity, sexual content, profanity, violence, etc. On the other hand, Weburbia's 'Safe for Kids' system has a three point system rating system whereas one rates content as suitable for younger children, older children and adults only. So which system should you use? It depends on your browser. If you use Internet Explorer, download all of them! Since various websites may use various systems with which to rate, it is prudent to install multiple filters. To do so, click on the individual logos below to access the individual web sites. Download the appropriate .rat file and copy it to your Windows System ( or WinNT/system32) directory. Netscape Communicator provides this service online. Unlike IE, you can only use SafeSurf and RASCi. This isn't as bad as it sounds since these two rating systems are by far the most widely used.
To set up IE, download the ratings files using the links below. Then scroll down for instructions to set up Internet Explorer
(now ICRA, the rsac.rat file is installed with IE by default.)
Safe for Kids
|Internet Content Rating Association
|Although the RSAC has changed it's name to ICRA and upgraded it's rating system, the new criteria is backward compatible with the older RSAC criteria.|
ASHRAE Dayton Chapter subscribes to all of the above ratings.
If you have not already done so, download the appropriate .rat files and copy them to your Windows/System or WinNT/System32 directory.
on your Internet Explorer Desk Top Icon and select 'Properties' from the pop-up menu.
With Internet Explorer started, select 'Internet Options' from the 'Tools' menu.
Select the 'Content' tab on the pop-up dialogue.
Now click 'Enable' and enter a password in the password Dialogue box and click 'OK'. Do not forget your password. Doing so will require you to uninstall and reinstall Internet Explorer.
Now click on 'Settings' and reenter your password. The Content Advisor dialogue will pop up. Select the 'General' tab. If you want to block all unrated sites, uncheck the 'Users can see sites that have no rating' box. Remember, a children's site that is not rated will still be blocked. To get around this, make sure you check the 'Supervisor can type a password to allow users to view restricted content' box. Checking this box allows you to type in your password from the step above to allow access to a blocked site. If you decide to allow access to an unrated site at all times, the site URL will be placed in the 'Approved Sites' list which you can view by clicking on the appropriate tab.
Now click on 'Rating Systems'. You will get the dialogue shown below. Of course, the list of rating systems may differ depending on which ones you downloaded and installed. Click on 'Add'. Use the file find dialogue to browse to your Windows/System (WinNT/System32) directory and select the rating file you wish to add. Install as many rating services as you wish.
Close the Rating Systems Dialogue and click on the 'Ratings' tab as shown below. The scrollable window will list each rating system as well as the various items to rate. Adjust the slider to your desired rating level. When you are done, click 'OK'. This will return you to the original properties dialogue. To readjust your settings, simply click on 'Settings' and reenter your password.
If you elected to block unrated sites, or if someone accesses a site not appropriate for the settings you chose, the following dialogue box will appear. Select the appropriate action and enter your password. If you do not want this site/page accessed, simply click on cancel. If you choose for the page or the site to be viewed always, the appropriate URL will be entered in the 'Approved Sites' List. Test your installation by accessing a site known to have no rating as well as a rated site with provocative material (the Playboy site is RSACi rated). Reinstall if necessary.
The children's browsers listed below all have the same goal in mind, protect your kids from content YOU deem inappropriate. As such, most differ only in features. However, I recommend you download all versions, free or trial, to check out which best suits your needs. Also, it is worth your while to visit the links page at each website to find new and exciting 'sites for kids' beyond the standard Disney sites that you probably didn't even know existed.
NET FOR KIDS is a great browser for children. It works like mom and dad's browser, but its just for the kids. Rather than filtering inappropriate content, this browser allows the parent to enter a list of sites to which their children can access. It does come with a password protected list of over 200 safe for kids sites. Since NET FOR KIDS does not have an address bar, a history file or a bookmark file, your children cannot access anything you don't want them to see. The only caveat is you should check out any site you add to the list to ensure it does not have a link that could inadvertently take them away from the protected environment this browser intends to maintain. This software is shareware.
AT KIDS BROWSER is a multimedia browser that allows kids to surf on their own. With features such as time control, animated characters, links to the arts and sciences and a cool help genie, this is one to check out.
CHIBROW is fully customizable and includes time control, domain name control, and application blocking. Chibrow prevents access to the desktop and system menus so your child cannot circumvent the program. It even disables reboot and the ability for your child to download and install an older version of the program to bypass password security.
CRAYON CRAWLER is a free browser intended for young children. Although the browser itself is free, you must subscribe to the Crayon Crawler site for a nominal fee. You can also purchase additional features, such as child-safe email accounts, child-safe chat, chore reminders and much, much more. This solution allows your child to call the web their own.
KIDDONET is one of few free children's browsers available. Also incorporating it's own website, your child has access to the positive side of the internet while you maintain control over what sites your child may visit.
FAMILY SAFE VIEWING is not a browser, It is a filtered Internet Service Provider (ISP). Even though this ISP provides filtering at the server end, you are actually in control of what is filtered. Competitively priced with other ISP's, this may be worth checking out.