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Yahoo to shut chats promoting adult-child sex

Yahoo agreed to shut down Internet chat rooms designed to promote sex between adults and children.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Yahoo Inc. said Wednesday it will bar chat rooms that promote sex between minors and adults and restrict all chat rooms to users 18 and older.

The changes come under an agreement with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning.

“This is about protecting kids,” Bruning said.

Spitzer said authorities did not have to resort to litigation. He said Yahoo, “acting as a good corporate citizen, ... did the right thing. We asked them to create a filter to stop this kind of thing and they have done so.”

In June, while still in discussions with the attorneys general, Yahoo voluntarily closed its user-created chat rooms following complaints that some had names suggesting they facilitated illegal conduct, including sex between adults and minors.

Yahoo spokeswoman Mary Osako said Wednesday that Yahoo was still determining if and when user-created chats would be restored as it makes improvements “to enhance the user experience and compliance with our terms of service.”

If they do get restored, the agreement calls for Yahoo to review the names of such rooms ahead of time and reject any deemed inappropriate. Even if a room’s name is innocuous, Yahoo also will bar any whose postings encourage sex acts between adults and minors, purging such chat rooms within 24 hours from when it becomes aware of them.

“These efforts are consistent with and build upon our long-standing commitment to providing a safer and more secure online experience for consumers,” Osako said.

The company also is eliminating the teen chat category and limiting usage of all chat rooms to adults, although it was not clear how the company would prevent children from signing up as adults because credit cards aren’t required.

Spitzer, a Democrat running for governor next year, said he started the investigation at Bruning’s urging.

“The agreement we have today is the first of its kind,” Spitzer said. “We think this is an agreement that can be a template for others to use.”

Bruning said the agreement means “our children are safer online and predators have fewer opportunities to prey on them.”

Among the illicit chat rooms removed were those with labels such as “girls 13 & up for much older men,” “8-12 yo girls for older men,” and “teen girls for older fat men.” Many of these were located within the “Schools and Education” and “Teen” chat categories.

An undercover investigator, posing as a 14-year-old while visiting one of those chat rooms, received 35 personal messages of a sexual nature over a single 25-minute period, the attorneys general said.

Spitzer and Bruning said they launched their investigations earlier this year after receiving tips that children had unfettered access to adult chat rooms.

Other measure announced under the agreement:

  • Yahoo will make it easier to report any threats to child safety, give priority to such complaints and designate specific employees to do so.
  • Yahoo will develop educational materials and feature them on the Yahoo network, promoting the safe use of chat rooms.
  • Yahoo will donate $175,000 to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s New York affiliates, and provide banner advertising to that organization targeted to teens.