Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Folksonomy -- another idea for content labeling

Folksonomy is a term proposed by the “wiki” world to describe the capability of content customers to label the content, both in terms of quality, and particularly with respect to suitability for minors.

Taxonomy would, by contrast, comprise classification and labeling provided by the author, publisher, or distributor of content. Movie ratings would probably fall somewhere between these two concepts.

In a sense, the ability that Amazon and Netflix offer to rate books and movies (with numbers of stars) and then present the composite ratings, is a kind of folksonomy. Amazon even allows viewers of book reviews to rate the reviews as to helpfulness.

Content labeling, as described so far, would be applied by authors or publishers in a system of voluntary compliance. A more sophisticated mechanism could be proposed to allow visitors or parents to supply ratings to some kind of escrow company, which then might be able to apply the appropriate labels to sites of members.

This is another concept that could apply in the developing debate over reconciling the needs for free speech for adults with the protection of minors on the Internet.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Microsoft Vista and parental controls -- applicable to COPA?

Major media outlets are reporting the upcoming release of Microsoft Windows Vista on Tuesday Jan 31. Vista will offer a Parental Controls panel that will allow parents to monitor their kids' use of computers closely, 24x7, setting time limits, whitelisting or blacklisting various programs and specific websites. The URL for Microsoft's description of the facility is this.

Of course, it will be some time, maybe even years, before Vista is common in homes, and its provisions would not apply to Apple/Mac or to machines running Linux or any older PC operating systems. It is not clear how it would fit into the "least restrictive means" analysis of the COPA trial. It is also not clear whether it is specifically geared to content labels, although it sounds like it probably will be easy for Microsoft to tailor it to talk to ICRA, etc. It does appear that Microsoft uses java applets to supply the monitoring facilities.

One point noted by the Supreme Court even in 2004 was that technology is changing rapidly, and older least restrictive means analysis could become obsolete.

Friday, January 19, 2007

MySpace sued: could this set a "brother's keeper" precedent?

The AP reported on Jan 18, 2007 in a story by Jessica Mintz in the El Paso Times (Texas), that four families of female teenage victims had sued MySpace.com for not having sufficient safeguards for minors in the facilities of its social networking site. The story is at this link. The families are in New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.

MySpace has recently developed restrictions on how adults can contact minors, and is expanding parental monitoring capabilities. It also (like Facebook) has been developing ways to let users restrict the audience that can see a profile (whitelisting). MySpace also has some age-related rules regarding funtionality of use. At least one of the perpetrators of the four incidents in the suit is serving a prison term in Texas.

The philosophical implications of the suit can be enormous: whether content providers or facilitators must take downstream responsibility for what customers or visitors may do. The underlying philosophical problem is also present in the debates in the COPA trial. I've often called laws requiring this "brother's keeper" laws.

Picture: A tourist Amish Village near Strasburg, PA, representative of a religious culture that eschews technology.

Update: Nov. 16, 2013

Myspace would probably be covered by Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the portion of the Communications Deceny Act that survived.  See my main blog for the label. 

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

COPA: Whitelisting -- relevant to "least restrictive means" analysis?

There was a lot of talk in the COPA trial about “least restrictive means” with most attention focused on the adequacy of Web content filters and on adult-id or credit card age verifications.

Within the past year, some blogging and social networking companies have been offering and promoting a technique called “whitelisting” where the publisher provides an explicit list of entities (by email or some other scheme) allowed access (even read-only) to the material. Security and privacy are among the reasons used for whitelisting. I’ve discussed in more detail here:

Would “whitelisting” be a way of audience restriction that fits the idea of “least restrictive means” analysis? Well, one obvious problem with this is philosophical. A writer publishes something on the web in order to be found (as by search engines) by the widest possible global audience, in order to have a personal effect on the debate about various problems. That would almost defeat the purpose of having a website.

Picture: from the exhibit at St Mary's City, Maryland, one of the earliest colones