The Internet Watch Foundation has hit back at criticism from ISPs that its plans for a Net content rating system are impractical.
The report from the government backed IWF, published yesterday, proposes a rating system that would prevent children accessing 'unsuitable' sites, but critics claim it will actually encourage children to search for unsuitable material.
One of the Internet service providers on the attack was David Clarke, managing director of Virgin Net,?The suggestions made are just not practical,? he said. ?The only viable solution for shielding unsavoury information from children is for parents to educate their children and control their viewing.?
?I?m also afraid that a ratings system would attract children to search out sites that are unsuitable for them, rather than deter them from viewing,? he added.
David Kerr, chief executive of the IWF, defended the initiative, saying that the strongest way of convincing sceptics is by proving that it can work.
?There are some organisations around that have a fundamental objection to a ratings system,? he said. ?It is true to say that we need the support of the majority of the ISPs to encourage users to rate sites, and the major ones are in fact on our board and funding us. This should not be a barrier.?
Much of the argument stems from the problems of establishing an international standard that could take account of cultural diversity.
A Virgin Net spokesperson said: ?There is no magical software that can decide what is or isn?t offensive and there never will be.?
Kerr admitted that any initiative based on content would need to distinguish between different countries, but was confident that this could be achieved with global feedback.
One supporter of the IWF?s initiative is UK ISP Demon Internet. James Gardiner, head of corporate communications, explained that the company is very keen see a ratings system properly run by the IWF.
?We are not necessarily against all adult material, but we want to create safe areas for children and that means that adult material should be kept in adult areas,? he said.
Virgin Net is not the only ISP to criticise plans to clamp down on pornography, violence and bad language on the Internet. Net Names told the 'Daily Telegraph' recently that the IWF?s plans to delete child pornography from the Internet were ?like bailing out the ocean with a spoon?.
The IWF?s plans to tame the Internet revolve around a model used in the US by the Recreational Software Advisory Council for the Internet (RSCAi), a voluntary regulation scheme that analyses site details to achieve a rating. Software sitting on the browser then filters sites and prevents access by those deemed unsuitable.
Kerr said that the IWF would be pursuing a more proactive policy by the end of the month, and he hoped that an international standard would be established within 18 months.
He said that he was looking to secure sponsorship for a nationwide consumer survey that would set the criteria for a rating system, and was approaching corporations and the EU as a way of funding this.
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