CHATROOMS CRACKDOWN; Microsoft Axes Internet Services to Curb Child Sex Perverts

Daily Mail (London), September 24, 2003 | Go to article overview

CHATROOMS CRACKDOWN; Microsoft Axes Internet Services to Curb Child Sex Perverts


Byline: SEAN POULTER

THOUSANDS of Internet chatrooms are to be closed in a crackdown on child sex attackers.

Microsoft is axing its services in Britain and most of the world in a bid to shield youngsters from web perverts.

The move - to be announced today by the U.S. giant's British operation MSN UK - was welcomed as 'momentous' by children's charities who urged other Internet services to follow suit.

Microsoft's decision follows growing evidence that child molesters and rapists are using chatrooms to 'groom' young victims.

Paedophiles are creating bogus identities, and pretending to be younger than they are, so they can arrange meetings and prey on children.

Home Secretary David Blunkett is so alarmed he has announced laws to make it an offence to use the Net to groom a child for sex.

Last night, the Government announced its support for the MSN initiative, which was taken in response to pleas from parents, children's groups and the police.

The plug will be pulled on October 14. All MSN chatrooms will be closed, except in New Zealand and Brazil, where a monitoring system will be introduced. Any suspicious conversations will be terminated.

Chatrooms in the U.S. and Canada will also survive, but access will be limited under a subscription service to people who can prove their identity and address. This will prevent users creating bogus identities.

In Britain, 15 cases of paedophiles abusing children after contacting them through the Net have been reported. Nine of the victims were girls aged 12 to 15. But this is the tip of the iceberg. Police forces across the country are currently investigating many other cases.

MSN UK claims 1.2million individuals log onto its chatrooms each month.

A similar number use rival sites operated by AOL and Yahoo, while there are numerous smaller companies running chatrooms.

In fact, AOL quietly shut down its UK open chatrooms earlier this year, it emerged last night.

The company said it responded to fears about paedophiles targeting children and felt it could not properly monitor email conversations.

Surprisingly, the decision was never formally announced and the company issued details only in response to the MSN news.

Now only AOL subscribers, who register their names and addresses with the company, can participate in monitored chatrooms.

Gillian Kent, the director of MSN UK, said: 'As a responsible leader we felt it necessary to make these changes because online chat services are increasingly being misused.

'A small percentage of people are abusing chatroom services in a serious way. We are talking about pornographers and perverts.

'There is evidence that men are approaching children and are looking to meet them and follow through in the way their sick minds work.

'They are dangers lurking in the Internet. Just like society, the Internet is a dangerous place to be at times.' Mrs Kent, who has a daughter of four and a ten-year-old nephew, added: 'I have become increasingly worried about access to inappropriate material.' MSN said another reason for its action was the increasing hijacking of chatrooms by pornographers who bombard users with sexually explicit material.

One in five chatroom messages is pornographic. People who click on an apparently innocent message are confronted by obscene images.

John Carr, chairman of the National Children's Home and Charities' Coalition for Internet Safety, said: 'This is a momentous announcement. Here we have the world's leading Internet service acknowledging that open, free, unmoderated chat cannot be made completely safe for consumers and children.

'I hope this move will give a huge boost to industry-wide efforts to achieve a safer experience for online users.

'Meanwhile, I think every other chat provider in the UK is going to have to reflect on how, or indeed whether, they continue with their own open access chat services. …

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