Children's charities call for end to 'anarchic Internet'

Microsoft's decision to shut its chatrooms should be just the beginning, say the NCH and the NSPCC

Two of the UK's most prominent children's charities said on Thursday that they hope Microsoft's decision to shut down most of its chatrooms is the beginning of the end for the technology, the reputation of which has suffered because of its misuse by paedophiles.

The National Children's Home (NCH) and National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said on Thursday that Microsoft made the right decision, regardless of its motives, because children will now be safer.

John Carr, director of the children and technology unit at the National Children's Home, told ZDNet UK that Microsoft should be congratulated because it has taken a "radical and bold step" in shutting down its chatroom services. He admitted the company's motives for doing so were not clear: "People speculate about Microsoft's motives and maybe they have a range of different motives for doing what they have done, but all I can see is from the child-protection perspective," he said.

According to Carr, reducing the number of chatrooms in the UK will, without doubt, reduce the number of kids using chat services.

"I think some kids will stop using chatrooms altogether -- partly because of the bad publicity they have had and partly because kids are more used to the Internet and realise what a load of rubbish a lot of chatrooms are," he said.

Carr's comments come after Lycos and Freeserve attacked Microsoft's decision to close its chat services, labelling the company "irresponsible" and "reckless". Alex Kovach, managing director of Lycos UK, said on Wednesday that chat is here to stay and will not go away when MSN pulls the plug. "It is more important to provide a responsible service, otherwise chat will get driven underground and the risks will increase," he said.

Carr disagrees. "If a company realises it cannot run a service that is safe for children, it would be strange logic to keep it running simply because other chat service providers didn't see the world in the same way as you," he said.

Carr said that chatrooms are generally in decline because they are part of the "old anarchic Internet", and kids are moving to technologies such as instant messaging. "The old Internet is dying. Children are shifting away from chatrooms to IM systems, because there you are talking to your mates, not a load of weirdos," he said.

The NSPCC, which works closely with the NCH, told ZDNet UK that it is in complete agreement with Carr's comments.

Critics also accused Microsoft of primarily wishing to drive chat activity to its MSN Messenger instant-messaging service, something Microsoft mentioned in its announcement. Unlike chatrooms, instant-messaging applications are proprietary and are controlled by the software provider. Yahoo and AOL make two of the most popular MSN Messenger rivals.


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