Yahoo! cracks down on porn chatrooms

Following intense pressure, the portal removes links to adult chatrooms from its general pages

Yahoo! is extending its crackdown on pornography by removing links to its adult-themed chatrooms and message boards, so making them harder to find.

Two weeks after Yahoo! US announced its decision to stop selling hardcore pornography, the Internet giant has quietly taken down direct links to adult-rated chatrooms from its general club pages. The keyword search function often used by members to find explicit chatrooms has also been disabled, meaning that users have to know the exact URL of a chatroom in order to access it.

Yahoo! members are circulating online petitions to protest against the decision, claiming that they feel betrayed, and voicing their concern that the chatrooms may disappear completely if they fail to attract new members.

But John Carr, Internet consultant for NCH Action for Children argues it is unlikely that these offending chatrooms will become redundant, and points out that it will now be harder for children to stumble upon adult areas accidentally. "You can't close things off permanently, but you can make it difficult to get there -- people who are seriously interested in going to these rooms will find them."

Yahoo! UK has a separate policy on porn, but maintains that no adult material is sold or advertised on the .co.uk site. A spokesman did however confirm that one adult-rated chatroom is accessible outside the firewall feature that Yahoo! implemented to stop under-18s accessing such material. "The UK hasn't introduced any keyword bar to the adult sections of its site, but this is not the end of the matter, and we are looking at new technologies to reduce any objectionable content in the UK."

In the middle of April, Yahoo! US took the decision to stop selling pornographic DVDs and videos on Yahoo! Shopping, Yahoo! Auctions and Yahoo! Classifieds, after the recent relaunch of its adult section was swamped with complaints. The UK site followed the policy lead of its American parent, despite an earlier claim that no adult material was available for sale on the .co.uk site.

In order to show its commitment to the problem of illicit material on the Web, an "inspector" has just started work at the Yahoo! UK office, charged with the responsibility of dealing with paedophile content polluting its chatrooms. "Her role is broad and she will be looking at a whole host of issues, but her first priority will be looking at the Yahoo! terms of service," said the Yahoo! spokesman.

What are the risks of paedophiles approaching children through Yahoo! Messenger chatrooms? Find out the details of ZDNet News' investigation in the Chatroom Danger Special Report

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