Yahoo! vows crackdown on pedophiles

Summary:In an exclusive interview, Yahoo!'s UK managing director says she will personally oversee the appointment of an inspector to eradicate pedophiles from chat rooms.

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

King also confirmed that she is receiving advice from organizations such as Childnet International and the police. If they recommend that chat rooms should be abolished because of the threat of pedophiles, King said she would do it.

The appointment of an inspector is a first for Yahoo! (yhoo). King said the decision is the first in a series of steps the company will take to "deal with the unacceptable use" of chat rooms by pedophiles 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 Yahoo! inspector will not work as a moderator, as moderators usually oversee all conversations and deal with foul language, racism, and abuse. Instead he or she will be specially trained to deal only with content with pedophile themes. King said the appointment would be made as soon as possible. She will oversee all coordination with the police and children's charities to ensure the right person gets the job.

If the inspector suspects a pedophile is using Yahoo!'s facilities, the police will be notified and the two organizations 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 through a Yahoo! chat room.

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 pedophiles in chat rooms. ... 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, Yahoo! is also looking to the future. King shared some of the plans the company is considering to eradicate predators from its service.

"I think one of the most important things to realize here is that this is not just a chat issue, but clearly they (pedophiles) are abusing our terms and conditions. ... We've been looking at several different ways, including credit card registration, to help us deal with this."

Credit card registration would provide Yahoo! with traceable information that can be passed onto the police if a pedophile is suspected of operating on the company's services. "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," King said.

Asked if Yahoo! would consider closing its chat room function on the Messenger service, King was clear: "My belief is that cutting off the chat rooms would only force pedophiles 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 chat rooms 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 pedophiles using Yahoo!'s chat room service would go away. Pressed, she refused to concede that predators with a sophisticated knowledge of the Internet 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."

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

King also confirmed that she is receiving advice from organizations such as Childnet International and the police. If they recommend that chat rooms should be abolished because of the threat of pedophiles, King said she would do it.

The appointment of an inspector is a first for Yahoo! (yhoo). King said the decision is the first in a series of steps the company will take to "deal with the unacceptable use" of chat rooms by pedophiles 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 Yahoo! inspector will not work as a moderator, as moderators usually oversee all conversations and deal with foul language, racism, and abuse. Instead he or she will be specially trained to deal only with content with pedophile themes. King said the appointment would be made as soon as possible. She will oversee all coordination with the police and children's charities to ensure the right person gets the job.

If the inspector suspects a pedophile is using Yahoo!'s facilities, the police will be notified and the two organizations 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 through a Yahoo! chat room.

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 pedophiles in chat rooms. ... 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, Yahoo! is also looking to the future. King shared some of the plans the company is considering to eradicate predators from its service.

"I think one of the most important things to realize here is that this is not just a chat issue, but clearly they (pedophiles) are abusing our terms and conditions. ... We've been looking at several different ways, including credit card registration, to help us deal with this."

Credit card registration would provide Yahoo! with traceable information that can be passed onto the police if a pedophile is suspected of operating on the company's services. "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," King said.

Asked if Yahoo! would consider closing its chat room function on the Messenger service, King was clear: "My belief is that cutting off the chat rooms would only force pedophiles 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 chat rooms 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 pedophiles using Yahoo!'s chat room service would go away. Pressed, she refused to concede that predators with a sophisticated knowledge of the Internet 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."

Topics: Censorship, IT Employment

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.