The PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) standard was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Organizations that use the PICS rating system can attach independently produced and authenticated ratings, known as labels, to any Web sites they wish. The author of a Web page might choose to label his or her own site, or any number of independent groups could do so -- organizations such as public interest groups, major Internet portals (search engine sites), or religious organizations. You can then choose the ratings scheme that best suits your needs (or a mix-and-match among multiple schemes), as well as the types of labels you want blocked.
Because PICS-ratings organizations normally use human review to make their ratings, their labels are usually very precise. The PICS standard also supports multiple levels of ratings for different ages or maturity levels (sort of like the ratings system you find at American movies), so parents can make decisions that certain kinds of online material are all right for a 14-year old, but not an 8-year old.
PICS-based filtering schemes place a lot of authority with the labeling bodies, but parents maintain the authority to choose the labeling body they trust most -- a public interest organization, a church, a school, or any other type of group -- as well as the types of filtering they desire. Parents can even mix ratings schemes (such as "Filter out all sites that Group A has rated as violent, unless Group B has rated them as educational") to assume an extra measure of control.
PICS-based ratings schemes rely on human review, and so are limited in their effectiveness; the newer the site, the less likely it is to have a label. But with many different rating bodies online, families can choose the solution they believe to be most similar to their values.
Physical safety protections
Like other Web filters, PICS-based ratings offer protection from inappropriate Web sites, as long as those sites have been rated, or if families choose to filter all unrated pages. PICS-based ratings systems offer no protection from online communication such as email or instant messages which might lead to risks offline.
The degree to which a PICS-based filter interferes with online functionality depends on the way it is used. If a parent decides to use a set of PICS labels that are not well maintained, and sets the family browser to block any sites that are not rated, then family access to a great deal of valuable, but unrated, content could be blocked. Parents may wish to carefully review the different options for PICS-based filtering so as to maximize their family's access to valuable content, while minimizing the associated risk of access to inappropriate material.