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Is MSN hiding behind social responsibility?

Was decision to scrap chatrooms taken for the kids or for the bank manager?
Written by silicon.com staff, Contributor

Was decision to scrap chatrooms taken for the kids or for the bank manager?

MSN has announced it is to scrap its chatrooms over concerns about child safety in the wake of a number of high profile scares and incidents involving children who have been contacted by paedophiles online. At first glance this was a laudable - if apparently extreme - gesture, but many have been quick to round on MSN, branding it "irresponsible" for refusing instead to moderate a service it has created a need for. In the eyes of these critics dropping the chatrooms was a cowardly way to shirk a responsibility to the children it has spent years marketing its services to. Cynics were very quick to suggest that it was in fact the cost of running and moderating chatrooms which have no obvious resultant income for the company, rather than any sense of social responsibility which sparked the move. So has MSN just been looking for a plausible excuse to scrap them and is the company now hiding behind the almost untouchable defence of preventing child abuse? You'll have to judge for yourself. Users are now being told that if they want to continue to communicate they should move across to a subscription-based service, because it is easier to hold people accountable for their actions if you have their billing details - so goes the argument. Lycos was among the first to brand MSN "irresponsible" claiming the company's actions are actually going to be to the detriment of child safety and that it is turning its back on a need for moderation which it created. Alex Kovach, MD of Lycos UK and Ireland, said: "Walking away from chatrooms will only drive this underground. It is up to the big players such as MSN to offer safe moderated environments. With 25 million people online in the UK, chatrooms are not simply going to go away." Kovach added: "We all know about the potential dangers of chatrooms and that's why we believe all responsible portals should invest in them. For MSN to overhaul its chatrooms and comply with Home Office standards would be expensive. By switching them off Microsoft look like they're taking the moral high-ground but in reality this is irresponsible." There is no doubt that by dropping its chatrooms MSN will never have to worry about future instances of grooming occurring on its service, but whether it will lead to a decrease over all is another matter.
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