October 12, 2005

Yahoo shuts chat rooms promoting adult-child sex

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Yahoo Inc., the online media company,
has agreed to shut down Internet chat rooms designed to promote
sex between adults and children.

The agreement with the attorneys general of New York and
Nebraska is the first to institute systemwide controls over
chat rooms likely to be frequented by child predators.

Yahoo said it voluntarily suspended all user-created chat
rooms on June 15 and is evaluating whether to reinstate the
ability of users to create them.

Earlier that month, Yahoo removed or barred the posting of
70,000 rooms whose names suggested illegal conduct, including
the promotion of sex between adults and children. The number
represents 11.4 percent of the 614,000 names Yahoo reviewed.

Some rooms carried labels such as "kiddies who love sex,"
"girls 13 & up for much older men," "8-12 yo girls for older
men" and "teen girls for older fat men." Many were located in
chat categories titled "Schools and Education" and "Teen."

In an October 7 letter agreement with New York Attorney
General Eliot Spitzer, Yahoo General Counsel Michael Callahan
acknowledged that "certain individuals, interested in engaging
in sexual conduct with minors, have at times entered or even
created chat rooms for such purposes. Yahoo is committed to
continue to work with (the) law enforcement community, to
minimize, target and take action against such behavior."

The agreement is "an affirmative step for Yahoo," Spitzer
said at a news conference. The attorney general said his office
will look at other Internet service providers that may have
similar problems.

"Because of this agreement, Yahoo chat rooms are a safer
place today," said Jon Bruning, Nebraska's attorney general, in
a statement.

Yahoo agreed to pre-screen user-created chat room names, to
reject names encouraging sexual activity between adults and
children and, upon finding chat rooms encouraging such
activity, to purge them within 24 hours. It also agreed to
develop education materials promoting the safe use of chat

In a statement, spokeswoman Mary Osako said Yahoo will also
enhance online users' safety by restricting Yahoo Chat to users
18 and older and removing the Teen category.

New York and Nebraska began their investigations this year
after learning that children had unfettered access to adult
chat rooms.

One investigator, posing as a 14-year-old girl, reported
receiving 35 personal messages of a sexual nature over 25
minutes, Spitzer said. The senders of those messages appeared
to be adult chat room participants, he said.

Yahoo also agreed to donate $175,000 to the National Center
for Missing and Exploited Children's New York affiliates and
additional free online advertising to promote Internet safety.

(Additional reporting by Michele Gershberg and Ed Leefeldt)