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Yahoo locks up chat rooms over kid smut

Yahoo follows MSN, shuts chat rooms as paedophile menace rears its head. 


26 June, 2005: Yahoo has shut down all its user-created chat rooms last week. The world's most popular Internet portal took the extreme step, once it came to its notice that many such chat rooms were created to target minors for sex and sponsors started pulling out. 

Many advertisers withdrew their advertisements from such chat rooms once it came to their notice that their logos were appearing in chat rooms used by pornographers and paedophiles. Yahoo finally cracked the whip last week, abruptly shutting down the service without notice. 

Advertisements from these companies had appeared with Yahoo chat rooms with names like "Girls 13 and Under for Older Guys."

Said State Farm spokesman Phil Supple: "We were thoroughly appalled when we were told that our ads were appearing on those sites. We took immediate action to see that they were withdrawn."

Yahoo's own chat rooms are still functioning and are monitored. Pepsico, State Farm and Georgia-Pacific withdrew their advertisements after an American television channel ran a program on the chat room being misused for posting pornographic images and soliciting sex with minors.

The TV channel found that some pornographers and paedophiles were using webcams to post pornographic images in chat rooms, while advertising their desire for sex with underage girls.

Yahoo chat service is free for its registered users, which generate revenues through the display of advertisements by sponsors. 

Last month, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of a 12-year old molestation victim, following which many child protection groups had called on internet portals to crack down on child smut. The suit seeks $10 million in damages.

Yahoo has not given child porn as a reason for shutting down the service. A Yahoo spokeswoman was reported as saying that Yahoo closed down user-created sites to make enhancements and to ensure users were adhering to the site's terms of service.

Three years back, an investigation by FBI had shown that child pornography was peddled in a Yahoo chat room named Candyman. The chat room operated two months before it was wound up.

Whereas Pepsi and State farm removed their ads only from the suspect chat rooms, Georgia Pacific has pulled out all their ads from Yahoo. Obviously, pressure had built up a little too much over Yahoo before it wielded the stick.

Yahoo is not the first leading portal to take action against child sex in its chat rooms. In 2004, MSN discontinued its chat rooms outside US and made it a limited service for paying customers only. AOL, which has user-created chat rooms has strict rules to segregate children from adult conversations.

Till now, advertisers exercised little control over the chat rooms or sections where their advertisements would appear. They buy advertising spots on websites in bulk, which are then distribted through different sections, often automatically selected by computer programs. All that may change with the Yahoo fiasco, and corporates may turn more choosy about where their names should and should not appear.




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