Exclusive: Yahoo! will act against paedophiles

UK managing director says she will personally oversee the appointment of a Yahoo! inspector to eradicate paedophiles from chatrooms

In an exclusive interview with ZDNet News UK Tuesday morning, Martina King, UK managing director of Yahoo!, confirmed that the organisation is about to employ a Yahoo! "inspector" charged with the responsibility of ensuring that Yahoo!'s Messenger system is not polluted with paedophile content.

King also confirmed that she is receiving advice from organisations such as Childnet International and the police. If they recommend that chatrooms should be abolished because of the threat of paedophiles, "I would do it," she said.

The appointment of an inspector is a first for the company and King explained that decision initiates a series of steps the company will take to "deal with the unacceptable use" of chatrooms by paedophiles to lure children into abusive liaisons offline.

"We are working closely with Childnet and the Internet Watch foundation as well as the police to deal with this problem," King told ZDNet.

The inspector will not work as a moderator -- moderators usually oversee all conversations and deal with foul language, racism, abuse -- instead he/she will be specially trained to deal only with content with paedophile themes. King said the appointment would be made as soon as possible and she will personally oversee all coordination with the police and children’s charities to ensure the right person gets the job.

If the inspector suspects a paedophile is using Yahoo!'s facilities, the police will be notified and the two organisations will work together to prosecute that user.

King said Yahoo! worked with the police to trap Patrick Green who lured and raped a 13 year old girl he met on a Yahoo! chatroom.

King expressed concern at the way Yahoo! had been portrayed by ZDNet UK News in recent weeks, following Green’s sentencing. "Yahoo! has always been concerned with the activities of paedophiles in chatrooms... It was not our intention to stonewall ZDNet News in its reporting of this issue."

While plans are being made for the first step to be taken, King also spoke of her hopes for the future and shared some of the plans the company is considering to eradicate predators from its service.

"I think one of the most important things to realise here is that this is not just a chat issue, but clearly they [paedophiles] are abusing our terms and conditions... We’ve been looking at several different ways including credit card registration [this would provide Yahoo! with traceable information that can be passed onto the police if a paedophile is suspected of operating on the company’s services] to help us deal with this."

"We are operating a zero tolerance strategy here and I will do everything I can to ensure these people are dealt with. I am considering 100 percent moderation... but will continue to take advice on this."

Asked if the organisation would consider closing its chatroom function on the Messenger service, King was clear: "My belief is that cutting off the chatrooms would only force paedophiles onto other parts of the Internet and our service. But we are in constant communication with the police and child agencies and if their advice was to get rid of them, I would do it."

Closing chatrooms would enrage civil liberties advocates who have long argued that censorship is not the way to deal with online predators. Yahoo!'s position suggests that as the Net becomes more mainstream, it is prepared to look at a solution that could upset thousands of users in order to protect those most vulnerable. "The last thing I would want to do is close any of our services, but if it was the only option for us on the Yahoo.co.uk site, I would consider it."

King would not guarantee that after the appointment of an inspector the problem of paedophiles using Yahoo!’s chatroom service would go away. Pressed, she refused to concede that sophisticated predators could successfully avoid Yahoo!'s efforts, "Again, we are working with the police and the child agencies and this isn’t just about Yahoo!. The whole industry needs to work together to deal with this."

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