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Internet Explorer and RSACi


All ages

Rating Scale
5 = great,    1 = poor
Ease of Use

Internet Explorer and RSACi Screen Shot System Requirements

Product Support

One alternative to purchasing and installing an Internet filter on your web browser, is to take advantage of one you might already have. Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, from version 3.0 on, has an optional feature that allows users to prevent access to some Web sites. This feature makes use of the voluntary ratings system proposed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), called PICS.

PICS, the Platform for Internet Content Selection, enables labels to be associated with content, in a standard manner which can then be used by browsers and content providers to help teachers and parents control children's access on the Internet.

A number of organizations offer ratings services that provide PICS labels. Internet Explorer currently includes the ability to recgnize the reatings provided by RSACi. RSACi (The Recreational Software Advisory Council on the Internet) is an independent, non-profit organization who's goal is to provide Internet users with the ability to limit the level of sex, nudity, violence and offensive language they see on the World Wide Web.

RSACi offers a free ratings service for any website. Internet content providers of all types are invited to participate in the RSACi voluntary, self-disclosure rating system. This system includes four categories (sex, nudity, violence and offensive language) and five levels of severity. Webmasters fill out a self-evaluation form, and are then issued a special "tag" (web slang for a line of software) to include on every page they wish labeled on their site.

Parents set permissions for these same categories based on the ages and maturity of their children. Sites that have not registered are blocked when the Internet Explorer default option -- "Do not go to unrated sites" is in effect.

When a user attempts to access a site that does not fall into the acceptable range, a warning message appears saying that the "Content Advisor" will not allow access to the site because it may contain inappropriate content (it then lists the categories in which the unacceptable content appears). At this point the parent or administrator can enter a password to override the Content Advisor, allowing their children access to individual sites they deem appropriate.

The RSACi system works well for sites that have registered themselves. Unfortunately, site registration is not universal, so many useful sites (like Yahoo, CNN, The Wall Street Journal) are blocked simply as a result of not being rated. Furthermore, even when a site is registered, movement within the site may be restricted or forbidden. For example, our testers were allowed on the kid-oriented "Yahooligans." When they attempted a simple search on this site, the search results page was unavailable because it was not rated.

Finally, it should be noted that RSACi ratings protection works only for Websites. E-mail, newsgroups and chat are not covered.

Ease of Use / Install
This is by far the simplest form of Internet filtering to install (and uninstall) -- if you're using Internet Explorere 3.0 or later. Setup requires only that the user to make a few changes within the options menu on the IE toolbar. Explicit instructions for set-up using IE 3.0 and 4.0 can also be found at

Best for... / Bottom-Line
The voluntary self-rating system of RSACi is an excellent concept. IE's implementation is easy to use and doesn't pose the potential to "gum up" your system if problems occur or you wish to disable the filtering.

Unfortunately, because it has not yet become widely adopted by either content providers or browser makers, its actual effectiveness varies. If the user accepts the default condition to "block all unrated sites," a lot of perfectly acceptable sites will be blocked. If, however, the option is set to only block rated sites containing objectionable material, many unrated objectionable sites will be displayed. We would recommend it only as a very minimal level of protection, for anyone concerned about controlling access to the Web.

Reviewed on:

  • Pentium166 with 24MB and 12XCD
  • Pentium450 with 128MB and 40XCD
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