Microsoft wants Web designers to use content tagging

Internet Content Rating Association tags are now supported in FrontPage 2003

Microsoft is urging Web designers to take more responsibility for content filtering, after forming a partnership with ICRA (the Internet Content Rating Association).

The software giant announced on Wednesday that it is incorporating support for ICRA's Web site blocker Meta tags into its FrontPage 2003 software.

The partnership has been welcomed by child protection agencies, who hope designers will use it to make the Internet a safer place.

"The tagging system is an excellent way for Web designers to be responsible for their content and Microsoft's partnership with ICRA technology is an excellent way to ensure children are kept safe online," said John Carr, an Internet advisor to children's charity NCH.

ICRA Plus is a free program that reads ICRA Meta tags, and allows users to block sites containing certain content, such as pornographic images.

Web site designers who choose to incorporate the tags in their pages must answer a series of self-rating questions about the content of their site. ICRA then generate a FrontPage-friendly Meta tag code that allows ICRA Plus to recognise a Web site's content and automatically blocks sites according to user preferences.

"Users can tell ICRA Plus to block sites with indecent images, for example, and then any site Meta tag which says it contains such information is automatically blocked," says Stephen Balkam, chief executive officer of ICRA.

Although ICRA's Meta tagging system isn't new, Microsoft is the first Web site design software manufacturer to support it, according to Carr.

"Meta tagging is aimed at Web designers and Microsoft hopes designers will label their sites to become more responsible about their Web site content," said Shereen Meharg, from corporate responsibility at MSN Europe.

Some critics suggest the tagging system is flawed because it is reliant on Web designers taking the initiative to self-regulate, as there's no obligation to use the software, and to rate their site content honestly.

"ICRA have procedures in place to deal with designers who abuse the tags but we already have 150,000 sites successfully tagged and our partnership with Microsoft shows a genuine commitment to making the Web safer," says Stephen Balkam.

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