The biggest names in the online world Thursday introduced a large and elaborate Web site aimed at helping parents guard their kids from the wild side of the Internet. Called GetNetWise, the site is a key part of the industry's efforts to head off government regulation of the global computer network.
The site, at http://www.getnetwise.org, offers Internet safety tips and an exhaustive guide to products and services that families can use to block and filter objectionable online material. Visitors can also get information about reporting trouble to law enforcement and can find pointers to sites worth visiting.
Critics immediately faulted the site, saying among other things that many of the "filtering" products don't work as advertised. Congress has repeatedly rejected the industry's approach of self-regulation and passed bills to establish criminal penalties for making sexual material available to children online continue.
The first such attempt, the Communications Decency Act of 1996, was declared an unconstitutional restriction of free speech by the Supreme Court. A subsequent law is currently tied up in court.
But the companies sponsoring the effort, which include America Online Inc., AT&T;, Microsoft Corp., Walt Disney Co., Excite, Lycos and Yahoo, say that the site and other programs will largely solve the problem. The firms often beat each other up in the courtroom, the media and the marketplace, but they all agreed on GetNetWise, and have pledged to place the site's logo prominently on their sites.