AltaVista Filtering

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Prof. Abelson briefly mentioned something about AltaVista having an
optional are some details:

AltaVista Family Filter reduces objectionable content from search
results. You can setup Family Filter to one of the three preferences:
1)All but Web Pages - filters images, videos and audio only, (default
setting) 2)All - filters all kinds of content (i.e. web pages,
images, videos and audio), or 3)None - filters nothing.

AV Family Filter uses three methods to reduce objectionable content
from search results: 1)AltaVista automatically categorizes pages to
separate the harmful pages from the rest of the search results. 2)
AltaVista also reviews information using proprietary technology
developed in partnership with "SurfWatch!" 3)AltaVista removes
inappropriate pages reviewed by editors and AltaVista users.

Editors from SurfWatch and AltaVista update content lists each week
to provide the most current information, minus the objectionable
sites. SurfWatch blocks in these five categories:

-Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco -Gambling -Hate Speech -Sexually Explicit -

SurfWatch also uses a technology called "ChatBlock"! to ensure that
all types of Internet chat rooms do not appear as you search.

-- James Kim, October 7, 1999


More on filtering of bothersome material

A person just called the Computing Helpdesk and asked me how he could stop web sites he was visiting from automatically sending him to porn sites. Apparently, this happens to him quite a bit to him and he'd heard of InterMute which filters out even web ads and tells you what kind of content it is filtering.

The New York Times had an article on this on Aug. 6th that features a bunch of different software packages that filter out web content (mostly annoying web content, not indecent) For something funny: "We think Web ad filters aren't necessary," said Lyn Chitow Oakes vice president of marketing at Flycast Communications, an Internet advertising network. "Web advertising is not very intrusive ..." I wonder what this is going to do to "the freedom of the internet" as seen by the courts. It seems to me that the government is definitely going to have to step in and legislate something about these subversive web sites which can be quite dangerous for children. Will this be what makes Congress pick up a modified version of the CDA again? The American public will certainly care since they're all on the internet now.

-- D J, October 8, 1999

Displaying only rated sites on search engines

Re: Lucy's comments in class

While I agree that if search engines were to only show sites that have been rated for nudity, profanity, etc., unrated Websites would initially suffer, I cannot help pointing to the marketplace pressures that will eventually equalize the playing field to the extent it can be equalized.

However, the beauty of the marketplace is that very likely that SOME search engine would still post unrated results. If no search engine does so, then I see a massive growth opportunity for anyone with a searching mechanism.

In the situation where listing only rated sites becomes the norm, we would most likely see a split in traffic among Web users. Those who are satisfied with the content of big corporate sites would be able to use those sites to satisfy their whimsy. Those who prefer more "underground" or "special-interest sites" would be able to use the entirety of the Web for their needs.

In some senses, this split will be more efficient, as those who use corporate sites would have shorter search times and would be less likely to fall upon unwanted content. Those who enjoy the entirety of the breadth of the Web would be able to find their desired sites with less keyword-position jockeying (I worked in Marketing for a startup for a short time, and one of my responsibilities was to get the site listed and sneak it as high up on search engine results as possible).

Btw, if you need to run to restroom during class on Thursday, the mens' bathroom code is 5-3-1.

-- Patrick Kremer, October 11, 1999

RE: Displaying only rated sites on search engines"

You are absolutely right in pointing out that, even if rating becomes the norm, there will probably still be some search engines that serve unrated documents. Trouble is, I don't know which ones. Ultimately, running a search engine is not a simple thing -- it requires a lot of resources, money, and persistance (I've worked at IBM, with people who were trying to set up their own whole-web engine). Who will pay for all of that? Current search engines rely on business support (adds, etc.), but if all the businesses are rated, there is no reason for them to place adds on the independent engines.

I still think that my biggest issue is the very impossibility of rating a site. It's not like a "food content" label. Even self-rating doesn't sound like a good idea: I have a couple of stories that I've written for fiction classes here at MIT, that I could not possibly rate on those categories, no matter how hard I tried (if any of you want to try to put a rating label on those, email me for URLs -- maybe I'll be convinced). Written words are not "product includes" stickers.

Ultimately, self-rating is no better than filtering based on keywords, and if that's to be done, why not do it on the individual user's end? If you are worried that your kids might be reading smut, then install "Net Nanny" on your own computer -- don't force me to agonize over what rating to place on my literature and to possibly lose some readers and reviewers if they happen not to be technologically-savvy enough to use the search engine that doesn't care about ratings.

To reiterate Tom Lehrer again: "obscenity is in the eye of the beholder." So let the beholder do his own filtering, instead of trying to set up the global infrastructure based on local hang-ups.


-- Lucy Borodavkina, October 12, 1999

Re: Filtering of search engines (Patrick's and Lucy's comments)

I have some random comments to add to this whole issue.

On the market "taking care of everything"

Just to add a note of skepticism to the "beauty of the market" taking care of any problems (and I'm not an economist so if I'm incorrect, feel free to strike me down :) Patrick's comments I think give too much credit to the market. I don't think the market has shown its capacity to cater to the "little guy's." The market is about majorities and what Lucy was talking about here is a minority (someone who publishes a site that might be screened out by search engine filters) who are trying to become majorities. Yes, there might be a company that starts up trying to bring up unrated sites on their search engine or even some of the big search engines might decide to include a "non-rated" search output. However, the key here is that none of these things are guaranteed or required. We might wish that the market move in that fashion or not but I think that to ensure this happens fairly (and that the net doesn't become a bunch of "big boys" with lots of money like most of the real world is) the courts and the Congress would have to step in and legislate.

To add to Lucy's comment on self rating

Not only is it hard to rate your own material sometimes but also it might be considered incorrectly rated by others. Imagine I'm a French photographer who's taken some pictures of nude people and posts it on the Internet. Since I'm French (and I'm generalizing here) I don't have as much of an issue with nudity as most American parents and so I rate my site as lower in the nudity scale than other people would want me to. Did I do something wrong? Are we going to start differentiating and categorizing people by "country or personal preferences" when the filter takes into account what to filter out? I sure hope not. The point is that it's too complicated to leave to a bunch of people to do.

To add a new point

I think something else that is ignored in this whole filtering/zoning debate for the protection of children is that the children are not alone here. Granted, the Internet allows a child to get online without much help (after the adult has already created an account) but who do we really care about here? Probably children under 13 years old. If this is so, why are there children of such young age being allowed to log onto the net unsupervised by their parents? I'm not saying their parents have to sit with them throughout their entire time on the net, but some form of supervision would be expected to be performed if the parent had reason to believe that the child is being exposed to pornographic material from an older friend in school. I think all this legislation shows a very "paternalistic" style of law-making which ignores the role the parents should and need to play in a child's life.

-- D J, October 12, 1999