Sunday, July 09, 2006

Introduction to content labeling

I think that the most promising approach is content labeling. A content labeling software company sets up label coding conventions to identify various content issues (such as pornography, violence, drugs, psychological stress), possibly refined by age categories. These are set up as entries to code in the HTML header. They might be META tags, or they might be LINK statements to point to an XML (or RDF) file in the domain’s root directory. The labeling company may or may not require that all files on a domain be labeled.

You wind up with a system conceptually similar to movie ratings, but with much more refinement and a large combinations of possible masks. The browser software must know how to read these tags, so the browser vendors and labeling vendors must work together. The parent sets up the browser on the machine to allow various kinds of labels. It would seem that this concept could be refined further by logon account (for each child) by an administrator (as with the Windows XP systems or future Vista systems), but more refinement may be needed in some operating systems and labeling systems for all of this to work.

Currently, HTML files and most dynamic content can be labeled, and images can be labeled with digital watermarks. At present, there seem to be issues with PDF files, but that could change in the future.

Public policy and legislation could set standards for browsers to recognize content labels, and could require webmasters to use them for a broader variety of issues than would COPA. Of course, a lot of us don't like to encourage more lawmaking or regulation; but we fear that without implementing an effective technological solution to problems like this, eventually political pressures could end low cost or free entry for many speakers.

Content labeling could have other important uses in the future. For example, a file could be labeled as fiction or non-fiction, so, for example, if an author posts a screenplay script on the Internet, visitors have a way of knowing that the characters and situations are fictitious (a kind of disclaimer that could have legal significance). Academic content for public schools could be labeled as appropriate for various grade levels or various categories of parental content approval.

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