By Jonathan Stempel
Yahoo Inc. the online media company, has agreed to shut down Internet
chat rooms designed to promote child molestation.
The agreement with the attorneys general of New York and Nebraska is
the first to institute systemwide controls over chat rooms likely to
be frequented by child predators.
Yahoo said it voluntarily suspended all user-created chat rooms on
June 15 and is evaluating whether to reinstate the ability of users
to create them.
Earlier that month, Yahoo removed or barred the posting of 70,000
rooms whose names suggested illegal conduct, including the promotion
of sex between adults and children. The number represents 11.4 percent
of the 614,000 names Yahoo reviewed.
Some rooms carried labels such as "kiddies who love sex," "girls 13 & up
for much older men," "8-12 yo girls for older men" and "teen girls for
older fat men." Many were located in chat categories titled "Schools and
Education" and "Teen." One that persistently showed up was "Sex B-4
Age 8 or its Too Late" and also "Sex Education Classes for 7 yo boys"
In an October 7 letter agreement with New York Attorney General Eliot
Spitzer, Yahoo General Counsel Michael Callahan acknowledged that
"certain individuals, interested in engaging in sexual conduct with
minors, have at times entered or even created chat rooms for such
purposes. Yahoo is committed to continue to work with (the) law
enforcement community, to minimize, target and take action against such
The agreement is "an affirmative step for Yahoo," Spitzer said at a news
conference. The attorney general said his office will look at other
Internet service providers that may have similar problems.
"Because of this agreement, Yahoo chat rooms are a safer place today,"
said Jon Bruning, Nebraska's attorney general, in a statement.
Yahoo agreed to pre-screen user-created chat room names, to reject names
encouraging sexual activity between adults and children and, upon
finding chat rooms encouraging such activity, to purge them within 24
hours. It also agreed to develop education materials promoting the safe
use of chat rooms.
In a statement, spokeswoman Mary Osako said Yahoo will also enhance
online users' safety by restricting Yahoo Chat to users 18 and older
and removing the Teen category.
New York and Nebraska began their investigations this year after
learning that children had unfettered access to adult chat rooms.
One investigator, posing as a 14-year-old girl, reported receiving 35
personal messages of a sexual nature over 25 minutes, Spitzer
said. The senders of those messages appeared to be adult chat room
participants, he said.
Yahoo also agreed to donate $175,000 to the National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children's New York affiliates and additional
free online advertising to promote Internet safety.
(Additional reporting by Michele Gershberg and Ed Leefeldt)
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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