With its massive recent growth and popularity, the Internet faces a dilemma that other forms of media have already resolved: censorship. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) quickly recognized the issues surrounding censorship and in May 1995, its members began working on the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS). W3C recently issued PICS specifications as a W3C Recommendation.
PICS establishes Internet conventions for label format and distribution methods, while dictating neither a labeling vocabulary nor who should pay attention to which labels. The standard is analogous to specifying where on a package a label should appear, and in what font it should be printed, without specifying what it should say. (See PICS: Internet Access Control Without Censorship.)
The original motivation for the PICS standardization effort was based on the desire to make the Internet safe for children while keeping it free of content regulations and decency acts. Today, activists disagree about whether to promote or reject PICS. Supporters are motivated by the idea that PICS is the best alternative to government censorship. On the other hand, opponents argue that it will open the doors for further censorship. Only time will tell whether PICS can fill the gap between the defenders of morality and the defenders of Internet freedom.
This paper assesses the standardization efforts revolving around PICS. The paper provides a general explanation of PICS, issues surrounding the PICS effort, and the technical details of two specifications on which PICS is based.