Voluntary Content Rating (VCR) is a specification that uses HTML metadata tags embedded in web pages in order to help parents and teachers control the content that children and students can access on the Internet. It is a rating level specified by the author of a web page, indicating the type of content contained in the page, and thereby its intended target audience. Web browser filtering software can examine the HTML header tags for a given web page and then block access to the page if it exceeds the appropriate viewing level configured for the user.
The rating system was devised by Solid Oak Software, the makers of CYBERsitter, a web content filtering program designed to protect children from viewing inappropriate web pages. It was devised in response to the PICS rating system, which critics had deemed as unnecessarily complex.
To designate a web page as inappropriate for young viewers, the author inserts the following HTML element within the
<head> portion of an HTML document:
<meta name="voluntary content rating" content="rating" />
The rating attribute value is one of the following:
"mature"— content intended for mature audiences, not suitable for children under the age of 13 (controversial or incendiary topics, racism, etc.)
"adult"— adult-oriented content intended for an audience 18 years of age or older (violence, eroticism, sexually explicit images, graphic or disturbing images, etc.)
These two rating levels are intended to be recognized by web filtering software.
While the VCR specification does not provide for rating levels other than these two, other types of web content may be designated using other, non-standard tags. These non-standard ratings would not be expected to be recognized by web filtering software, but could still be used for internal documentation purposes. Some examples include:
"general"— content intended for general audiences
"children"— content intended specifically for children (education software, simple video games, nature images, etc.)
- Weinberg, Jonathan (1997). "Rating the Net". Hastings Comm/Ent L.J. 19: 453. Retrieved 2015-09-15.
The Voluntary Content Rating self-rating system promoted by CYBERSitter is almost the model of a standard; it offers as its only guidance the instructions that self-raters should determine whether their sites are "not suitable for children under the age of 13," and whether they include material "intended for an audience 18 years of age or older."
- SolidOak.com home page, makers of CYBERsitter software
- Voluntary Content Rating explained at SolidOak.com
- Voluntary Content Rating System explained at ChildWelfare.com
- Voluntary Content Rating explained at networkdictionary.