Let Technology, Not Policy, Regulate

The answer to Internet "regulation" is a software-based equivalent of the cable set-top box "lockout" key, providing freedom of choice and a sense of security for troubled parents

e've said this before on other issues and we'll say it again, and not just because the word "technology" is 50 percent of our name: The answer to policing the Internet for objectionable material will be found in technology, not politics.

Anyone who has used the Internet knows it poses challenges for the user. It takes a heck of a lot of experience and knowledge to drive the Internet - but most, through ignorance, let the Internet do the driving. Read any news group and you'll find a carnival of irrelevant and time-wasting responses that can be downright irritating if you're trying to follow a particular topic. Most people simply post more messages whining about the irrelevance, rather than learning to use a kill file, which can do an efficient job of deleting irrelevant strings or posts.

The same sort of process could work to help solve the growing dilemma, as the Net becomes more popularized, of the easily offended taking deep umbrage at the Internet's dark side. But the Internet needs no Federal Communications Commission to regulate its content: look at what bluenose restrictions did for cable television, where the uncut pay-per-view movie channels have just about destroyed the viability of bowdlerized Hollywood releases on the networks.

Such regulation has already produced a backlash, if you will, forcing the networks to air more "realistic" TV shows such as "NYPD Blue," where people at least marginally act and talk the way they do in real life.

The most interesting and surely one of the most competitive information technology markets of the near future will be in intelligent agents, knowbots and the like, which in theory can crawl around the Net and the World Wide Web and collect information specified by the user. It's certainly not a stretch to imagine the same sort of technologies screening or locking out the seamier parts of the Net, much as the cable set-top box can block channels with objectionable content.

There are dozens of software and networking companies out there that could meet (indeed, are meeting) this technological challenge. Government, where the loud and the shrill often prevail over the quiet majority, will only provide equivocations and hot air.


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