TimBL responds (in part) to criticism of PICSRules

Rohit Khare (rohit@bordeaux.ICS.uci.edu)
Wed, 14 Jan 1998 21:08:59 -0800

Just wanted FoRKers to know, and FoRK-archive to have a copy...

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X-FC-URL: Fight-Censorship is at http://www.well.com/~declan/fca/

The GILC submission is at:



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Date: Wed, 24 Dec 1997 12:58:39 -0500
From: "Joseph M. Reagle Jr." <reagle@w3.org>


Dear GILC members,

Thank you for your letter regarding PICSRules. I appreciate your concerns.
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
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
government action.

The PICSRules specification is being released as a Recommendation, following
guidance of W3C staff and consensus among our Members. We have added an
introduction to the specification to better explain the purposes of the
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
can create a recommended profile for children of a certain age. Users who
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.
of various kinds may wish to tailor their output to better meet users'
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
PICSRules-compatible product."

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
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
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
provided to them. Or, it could lead to government efforts to legislate about

It is important to distinguish between filtering itself and the availability
of a common
language for expressing filtering preferences. The former already exists, in
proxy servers, and PC-based filtering products. PICSRules provides a common
language. This specification essentially has no effect on how easy it is to
filtering, but does make it easier to send filtering preferences from one
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
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
industry and governments, is very important. So, I thank you for your
for the discussion.



PS: Some personal comments on the philosophy of these matters are at

Tim Berners-Lee
World Wide Web Consortium
MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, 545 Technology Square, Cambridge MA
02139 USA