T-Online rejects chatrooms from its IM service

ISP steers clear of the chatroom feature that has proved a controversial issue for other instant messaging providers

German ISP T-Online has rejected chatrooms from its forthcoming instant messaging product, adding to the growing concern that the feature is dangerous.

T-Online has around eight million users across Europe and is by far the largest ISP in Germany. Its decision to have the chatroom facility removed from its IM software will put additional pressure on Yahoo! to remove its own chatroom facilities.

A ZDNet News investigation revealed that some of the 'romance' chatrooms freely available to users, via Yahoo!'s instant messaging service, are hotbeds of paedophile activity. Numerous paedophiles have been using the service to have sexually explicit conversations with children and one, Patrick Green, went on to rape a girl he met in a Yahoo! chatroom.

According to MessageVine -- the company which is providing the IM technology to T-Online -- the telco is very conscious of the issue of chatroom danger.

"T-Online removed the chatroom system and has a very conservative approach to this issue, said MessageVine's vice president of operations Amit Rahav. "It believes that monitoring chatrooms is very important and therefore doesn't want to add any more chatroom facilities to its service."

The dangers of chatrooms is just one of the issues facing the IM industry. Another hot potato is the issue of interoperability, finding a standard protocol for all the different IM technologies currently available. Rahav believes that the process has been slowed down by AOL.

"AOL didn't play along in order to maintain marketshare. But now there is a huge critical mass of non-AOL users which will eventually lead to AOL changing its policy," he said. "Hopefully we can come up with a solution and the process is only taking a long time because AOL is dragging its feet."

While AOL is a huge player in North America, it is not so dominant in the burgeoning European IM market. Instant messaging is a huge growth industry in Europe, both for fixed line and, increasingly, mobile access. Analyst firm the Yankee Group believes that wireless data services will be driven by messaging, with 50 percent of users specifically accessing such services for messaging.

T-Online is unique in being the first European telco to use a software vendor to provide the IM technology, rather than, as France Telecom has done, design it itself or rely on the bigger players.

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