Experts split on Yahoo! inspector plans

Experts question whether one man is enough for the job, while Childwatch calls for chatrooms to be suspended to analyse the situation

The decision by Internet giant Yahoo! to employ a full time "inspector" to deal with paedophile content has received an unenthusiastic response from children's charities, the police and the UK Internet industry.

Whilst experts are pleased Yahoo! is taking steps to deal with the threat of predators, consensus suggests the company should have faced up to this responsibility long ago. Childwatch says the move is little more than a gesture and wants the service to suspend chatrooms to analyse the extent of the problem.

Chief superintendent Martin Jauch of the Metropolitan Police's Clubs and Vice Unit, who recently slammed Yahoo! for its apathy in dealing with Net paedophiles, welcomed the move, but had reservations. "It's a step and something to be supported... but it's the type of attitude that you'd expect from a responsible company. They should have done this all along."

Yahoo! acknowledged concern that the task of identifying all paedophile content may be too complex for one person to deal with. Martina King, UK managing director of Yahoo, has pledged to abolish the Yahoo! chat service completely if this proves to be the case.

Nick Lansman, secretary general of ISPA, said: "It wouldn't be very good for people's civil liberties to ban chatrooms completely... chat services directed at adults need to respect their users' freedom of speech." Lansman says many family orientated ISPs already have a clear policy on the monitoring of chatrooms. "It may be that some child-facing ISP's would want to do more than that," he said.

Childwatch International is one of the many charities concerned with the lack of priority given to protecting children from Internet paedophiles. Charity director Lesley Verne is pleased Yahoo! has chosen to act more responsibly. However, she argues that it is "a minimal response, it would have been nice to see the chatrooms taken down temporarily in order to analyse the source of the problem".

Verne is also concerned about the method of recruitment that Yahoo! will use to employ its "inspector". In her opinion the candidate will need to be familiar with child protection policy and possess good psychological insight. The will also need to be properly vetted. "They are entering into the territory of bees around a honeypot," she said.

King assured ZDNet Tuesday that all appropriate procedures to vet the right person would be employed.

It remains to be seen whether other chatroom providers will follow suit. John Carr, Internet consultant at NCH Action for Children, is more positive about Yahoo!'s announcement. "Excellent news, and let's hope other providers follow this example," he said.

Like Verne however, Carr does acknowledge that Yahoo! may be underestimating the scale of the job that they are proposing for one person.

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