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MSN torches chatrooms

'Increasingly being misused'

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MSN is to ditch its chatroom service next month in 28 countries as part of an effort to protect children online.

The company says it is making the move because online chat services are "increasingly being misused" by spammers and paedophiles. It is closing chatrooms throughout EMEA, much of Latin America and Asia. MSN is retaining unsupervised chatroom services in the US, Canada and Japan, but for subscribers only. In these countries, MSN sells Internet access, so it has names and account details, enabling it to patrol the chatrooms more effectively.

Fear is growing that paedophiles are using chatrooms to "groom" young children. Earlier this year, for example, the Home Office announced a £1 million advertising campaign to warn children and their parents of the dangers of paedophiles lurking in chatrooms.

MSN UK's chatrooms are to close on October 14. John Carr of the National Children's Homes (NCH) hailed the decision.

In a statement he said: "Here we have the world’s leading Internet service acknowledging that open free un-moderated 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 on-line 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."

But the move has raised an eyebrow or two at the UK's biggest ISP, Freeserve, which argues that MSN's actions will result in chat becoming less safe.

A spokeswoman said: "We're very surprised MSN has made this move and are disappointed that they have decided to take this course of action. We know about the potential dangers of chatrooms and that's why we believe all responsible portals should invest in them.

"All MSN is doing is forcing users to go elsewhere, potentially to non moderated chat rooms with little or no protection. It sounds to us like MSN simply doesn't want to make this investment." ®

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