Police chief slams Yahoo! chatroom silence

Metropolitan police says Yahoo!'s stonewalling tactics are inappropriate and 'appalling'

The Metropolitan Police has joined the growing list of critics urging Yahoo! to act against paedophiles using its chatroom services.

Chief superintendent Martin Jauch of the Metropolitan Police's Clubs and Vice Unit slammed Yahoo! for its apparent apathy in dealing with paedophiles using its service and called on the industry to act more responsibly.

But Jauch's calls may fail to have an effect on the Internet giant, which has adopted stonewalling tactics and refused to discuss the issues. In its defence, Yahoo! says it is in ongoing dialogue with the child agency Childnet to deal with the problem. Last week however Childnet led calls for Yahoo! to change its chatroom protocols and said it was disappointed by the company's inaction on the issue.

It has been a difficult week for Yahoo!. Three children's charities including Childnet International, NCH Action for Children and Childwatch lambasted the company for its policy on Internet chat. Later, expert child psychologists warned that Internet chatrooms are likely to increase the number of attacks on children in the UK and urged Yahoo! to act before more children fall prey to the kind of attacks Patrick Green put his victim through.

Green was sentenced to five years imprisonment for raping a 13 year old girl he lured on a Yahoo! chatroom.

Jauch is appalled that Yahoo! refuses to discuss the matter. He told ZDNet that he expects the company to eventually throw up a civil liberties defence: "The problem with people like Yahoo! is their high profile position. If they are not doing anything that is clearly illegal, they will turn it into a freedom of speech issue."

Yahoo! has stated that it will only remove the adult-rated content from its chatrooms if it is found to be illegal. Jauch accuses the company of putting business before child safety. "We were getting this response four years ago, but you'd now expect serious big businesses to be taking a more adult and responsible approach, and we're not getting it."

Yahoo's PR tactic -- to stonewall all objections and concerns raised by the press, children's charities, psychologists and now the police -- is similar to that taken by ISPs around four to five years ago. Severe objections were raised by privacy advocates and ISPs when Childwatch was first set up. Most objections faltered once it was clear the service's intention was to protect children online, not to infringe civil liberties.

Catherine Taylor, marketing director at Yahoo! told ZDNet News UK: "We have nothing more to say on the subject."

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