Child charities unite against Yahoo! chat

Yahoo! yet to respond to charity's criticism of its chatroom and messenger facilities

One of the UK's highest profile children's charities Childwatch International has added its voice in condemning Yahoo!'s policy on Internet chatrooms.

Lesley Verne, director of Childwatch says she is shocked that Yahoo! is refusing to remove the adult-rated chat featured on main screens of its Messenger service.

"I think they should act immediately to put the safety of the child before anything else. As adults we have a responsibility to protect our children," said Verne. She explained "sex can be a giggly thing for children to talk about, but what starts as fun can be damaging to a child's life".

ZDNet UK News has been seeking a response from Yahoo! since posting this story Thursday.

By Monday the Internet giant had still to comment.

John Carr, Internet consultant at NCH Action for Children, is determined that unmoderated, sexually explicit chatrooms should be made illegal. Following an investigation by ZDNet UK News into the way in which companies run their instant messaging services and chatrooms, Yahoo! remains adamant that it will only remove content if it is illegal. The portal defends its protocol saying it is unwilling to alienate a section of its family-orientated audience by removing chat based on a "subjective" decision.

Competing messenger services offered by MSN and AOL will remove any obscene, defamatory or unlawful content from their chatrooms as soon as they are found. Gillian Kent, marketing manager at MSN UK said: "We want our users to respect each other, and we reserve the right to remove any stalking, harassment or abuse... if it breaks our code of conduct we would take it down."

MSN only monitors chat within rooms it has created. "There's a fine line between monitoring everything and providing freedom. As soon as you start to monitor any chatroom the numbers decrease. In order for children to freely chat, you need to offer them areas that are unmonitored," said Kent. AOL monitors all of its children's chatrooms for 12 years and under.

September research from Internet research company MMXI shows that children's use of instant messaging has increased from ten to 15 percent of all users, with Yahoo! Messenger being the most popular.

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