Yahoo! makes u-turn on porn sales

One week after announcing that it was to boost its coffers with pornography sales, Yahoo! backtracks under public pressure

Mass-market portal Yahoo! announced its decision to stop selling porn on Yahoo! Shopping, Yahoo! Auctions and Yahoo! Classifieds on Friday, after the relaunch of its adult section was swamped with complaints.

Yahoo! US has been selling hardcore pornographic DVDs and videos for the past two years, but re-launched the adult section of its online store last week in an attempt to boost profits amidst the slump in Internet advertising sales. The relaunch meant that Yahoo! was the only one among the major Internet companies to associate itself with pornographic material. It has now u-turned on its decision to trade in pornography, as well as pulling banner ads from hardcore adult Web sites.

The American Family Association (AFA) has accused Yahoo! of breaching federal law by taking a percentage of each sale from porn merchants working with them.

"Because Yahoo! has such a dominant presence on the Internet, it must not be allowed to flaunt federal law. To allow it to do so will surely encourage many more mainstream companies with a dot-com presence to also embrace the obscenity industry," said AFA director of governmental affairs Patrick Trueman.

Yahoo! UK is allowed to choose its own policy on porn, and maintains that no adult material is available on the .co.uk site. "We have no adult merchants on our site -- the US makes its own decisions about selling such material," said a Yahoo! UK spokesperson.

British Net regulatory body the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) said it is "mute" on issues of legal adult porn, but confirmed that it would treat any related complaints as seriously as child porn alerts. "We've no moral stance on adult sites and commercial sex sites provided they remain legal," said chairman David Kerr.

The AFA lobbying group is accusing Yahoo! of trafficking illegal child pornography through its Web hosting service Geocities. Trueman argues that "child pornography is instantly available through this service. Profiting from the sexual exploitation of children and women by Yahoo! is not only degrading to all children and women but is patently illegal."

Yahoo! US is confident that all adult material has always been held behind an age-verified firewall preventing children from accessing it. "Yahoo! takes extra precautions to ensure its products are only available to age-appropriate audiences by placing adult merchants and products behind a secure firewall," said a Yahoo! spokesperson. "To enter this area, users need to enter a credit card number and verify their age."

In November, Yahoo! fought the right to sell Nazi memorabilia on its site on the grounds that its Yahoo.com services are US-governed and that auctions of Nazi material cannot be barred because of the right to free speech guaranteed by the US Constitution. The decision to stop selling pornography on Friday highlights the moral business choice that Internet companies have in respect to the American preservation of free speech on the Web.

Yahoo!'s UK managing director Martina King is still refusing to comment on the issues raised in ZDNet's Chatroom Danger special report, which revealed paedophiles to be active in Yahoo! chatrooms.

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