ICRA at a glance

ICRA (formerly the Internet Content Rating Association) is part of the Family Online Safety Institute, an international, non-profit organization of internet leaders working to develop a safer internet. With a history stretching back to 1994, ICRA has long believed that self-regulation leads to the best balance between the free flow of digital content and protecting children from potentially harmful material.

The centrepiece of the organization is the descriptive vocabulary, often referred to as "the ICRA questionnaire." Content providers check which of the elements in the questionnaire are present or absent from their websites. This then generates a small file containing the labels that is then linked to the content on one or more domains.

Users, especially parents of young children, can then use filtering software to allow or disallow access to web sites based on the information declared in the label. A key point is that ICRA does not rate internet content - the content providers do that, using the ICRA labelling system. ICRA makes no value judgement about sites.

The descriptive vocabulary was drawn up by an international panel and designed to be as neutral and objective as possible. It was revised in 2005 to enable easier application to a wide range of digital content, not just websites.

Most of the items in the questionnaire allow the content provider to declare simply that a particular type of content is present or absent. The subjective decision about whether to allow access to that content is then made by the parent.

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The ICRA vocabulary at a glance

The broad topics covered are:

  • The presence or absence of nudity
  • The presence or absence of sexual content
  • The depiction of violence
  • The language used
  • The presence or absence of user-generated content and whether this is moderated
  • The depiction of other potentially harmful content such as gambling, drugs and alcohol

Within each broad category the web author is asked more detailed questions about whether a specific item or feature is present or absent from the site.

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Cross-cultural, multi-lingual

The ICRA questionnaire can be completed in several different languages; however, the labels themselves are expressed as computer code. The ICRA labelling system is therefore independent of any given (human) language. Descriptors from other vocabularies may be used in conjunction with ICRA labels and the organization is willing to consider extensions to its vocabulary where circumstances demand it.

This website is offered in a variety of languages too, however, ICRA's working language is English. The English version of the website is therefore typically more up to date than other language versions.

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Technical standards used

ICRA labels are expressed using the Resource Description Framework (RDF) as defined by the World Wide Web Consortium. Specifically, ICRA was instrumental in defining and now uses RDF Content Labels, a generic platform designed to support digital labels and trustmarks of all kinds.

Use of RDF means that ICRA labels are part of a much bigger global effort to make sense of the mass of online data known as the "Semantic Web." RSS news feeds, blogs, shared bookmarks and many other technologies are based on RDF and related standards.

In order to facilitate filtering for parents using PICS filters (such as Microsoft Internet Explorer's Content Advisor), since January 2006 ICRA has also provided a simplified PICS interpretation of the current vocabulary alongside the RDF labels.

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