"The Big Sellout," on self-labeling, from Time

Declan McCullagh declan at well.com
Mon Aug 4 10:38:06 PDT 1997

Netly is running Josh Quittner's column in this week's
Time Magazine as our story today. It's about the perils
of self-labeling systems for the Net, especially for
news organizations. Stop by and check it out.

Also, on p48-49 of this week's magazine is a look at
censorware programs and public libraries. It's called
"Censor's Sensibility: Are Web filters valuable
watchdogs or just new online thought police?" Bruce van
Voorst and I worked on the story from the Washington
bureau. (It's not on pathfinder.com yet, so you'll have
to pick up a physical copy.)

Also, stop by our Netpolitics chat area where we're
discussing self-labeling and censorware:





The Netly News Network (http://netlynews.com/)
August 4, 1997

The Big Sellout
by Joshua Quittner (quittner at pathfinder.com)

     The greatest threat to free speech these days is
coming from the most unlikely quarter: journalists.
It's happening - where else? - on the Net. A
self-appointed council of "industry representatives,"
including people from the Wall Street Journal, the
Newspaper Association of America, CNET, Wired and - no
surprise! - Microsoft, is debating whether the online
world might be a safer, happier place if a
subcommittee of the council decides what's news and
what's not. Anything deemed "not news" would be forced
to submit to a rating system or risk being blocked by
software browsers. And being blocked on the Web could
mean extinction for small, independent-minded online
publishers - the very folks who have benefited most
from the Internet revolution. The whole thing reeks of
the powerful beating up on the weak.

     The roots of the betrayal go back to June 1996,
when the notion of rating Web content first took off.
That was when Microsoft forced its myriad web sites to
adopt a system that analyzes content according to the
degree to which it contains sex, nudity, violence or
obscene language. The official reason for this was to
make the Net a "safe place" without government
censorship - which made sense, I guess, given that the
Supreme Court had not yet ruled the Communications
Decency Act unconstitutional.

     It also made good business sense for Microsoft to
adopt an idea that adds value to one of its key
products, the Internet Explorer. Explorer is the
second-most popular browser on the Web; a software
component that gives parents the option to filter out
the naughty bits is a big selling point. But what's
good business for the software industry is nonsense
for journalism - as the folks who run Microsoft's news
web site quickly realized.


Declan McCullagh
Time Inc.
The Netly News Network
Washington Correspondent

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