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MSN pulls child porn pix from communities site

But shouldn't it have noticed earlier?

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This afternoon I called Microsoft's MSN in the UK and told them an MSN communities site at latam.msn.com (Latin America) was hosting large quantities of child pornography. There were 15 pages with about nine pictures apiece, and several clearly involved children. Within a couple of hours, the site was gone - rapid response or what?

Well, what, actually. I was first contacted about the site at 3.30pm GMT yesterday, as a cc of an email to abuse@msn.com. Given that the MSN system might be set to Seattle time (although they ought seriously to be global, 24x7) it was only fair for me to leave it 24 hours for abuse to check it out. Once they started checking it ought not to have taken more than four or five seconds to confirm that the content was most certainly not the sort of stuff MSN would wish to host. Presumably MSN doesn't want to host porn at all, so the enforcement people wouldn't have to take the time to guess the age of the participants.

The people at abuse.msn.com however hadn't got their act together by midday GMT today, which is why I called MSN, and presumably also why the site disappeared. I can't say with any certainty that nothing would have happened if I'd just left it, and a spokeswoman for MSN tells me "it was already being investigated by the MSN team and should, by the time you receive this email have been disabled in accordance with MSN's 'Notice and Take Down' policy." But one still wonders about why it takes much more than an instant to investigate and pull the plugs, in a case like this.

Another point to reflect on is that the pictures were largely dated 9.10.2001. If this was the actual posting date, then (depending on whether we're using European or US date format) they'd been there since either September or October.

Clearly, it is not possible for an operation like MSN to ensure that it never hosts pornographic, illegal or inappropriate material, but if it's possible for such material to be hosted for three to four months, and the only reason it gets pulled is because of a report to abuse (possibly) or because of a call from the press (more likely, I fear), then the hosting company can't in any sense be said to be policing its content.

Outfits like MSN get traffic and business by getting their content for free, and if that content turns out to be illegal they throw up their hands and say they're not responsible for publishing it, and when it's drawn to their attention they'll pull it. But why should that be good enough? Granted, it's impossible for them to extert total control over their content, so they shouldn't be held responsible for everything that appears, but they should be responsible for doing at least some proactive monitoring. They are, after all, using this free content to at least attempt to make money.

According to a policy statement MSN UK has given us, "MSN staff will close down any sites that have names, topics and in the case of communities, content which violates our Code of Conduct / Terms of Use, should they encounter them in the normal course of their housekeeping duties" and "All complaints (either from a member of the MSN team or from a member of the public) are investigated quickly, usually within 24 hours, and if material is felt to be inappropriate, offensive or illegal the site will be disabled."

Neither of these appears to have happened in this case. Nor, indeed, is the site entirely off the radar screen. The porn content is gone, and the site has a "temporarily unavailable" message (in Spanish). But there's still a banner up there saying "Sexo al amenecer." Register resident linguist Lester Haines assures me that this translates as "sex at dawn." The banner itself clicks you through to what appears to be a legitimate sex information site in Spanish. It's registered to an address in Mexico, and the admin and tech contacts are at Microsoft. And I really don't want to get any deeper into this one, OK? ®

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