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Yahoo! has pulled the plug on user-created chat rooms in the US with apparent child sex content after major advertisers withdrew their ads.

The change of heart came after an exposé by a Houston TV station which revealed Yahoo! was hosting chat rooms with titles including Girls 13 And Under for Older Guys and 9-17-Year Olds Wantin' Sex. The TV station found chat from men seeking children for sex.

On Friday last week Yahoo! stopped users from creating their own chat rooms. A statement on the site said the service was unavailable while Yahoo! worked on improvements and on making it compliant with Yahoo's terms of service.

The exposéled several companies to withdraw their advertising from Yahoo! The company is also facing a $10m lawsuit for hosting the chatrooms.

Yahoo has been criticised for failing to take action on this issue before. The combination of lost advertising revenue and a $10m lawsuit seems to have helped focus their minds.

Peter Carr, editor of specialist online title ChatMag.com, told us: "I've talked to Yahoo! about this before, there was a petition last year asking them to moderate their chat rooms but they've never done anything." Carr said Yahoo pulled the plug on customer-created chatrooms late on Friday night to avoid media attention.

The action has also irritated thousands of legitimate chatroom users.

Yahoo said in a statement: "With regard to Yahoo! Chat, the ability to publish user-created chat rooms in the public Yahoo! Chat directory is currently unavailable. We are working on improvements to this service to enhance the user experience and compliance with our Terms of Service."

Natasha Finlayson, director of policy andcCommunications at UK charity ChildLine, said: As ardent campaigners for children’s safety any steps which can be taken to minimise risk to children and young people have to be embraced.

"We have received some calls concerning internet safety and chat rooms and it is clear that children and young people who are targeted by paedophiles in this way are at major risk.

"Calls to ChildLine show that chat rooms are very popular with children and young people as a way of communicating with others, helping them to make friends and share interests and hobbies. But ChildLine also hears from children who have given out their contact details such as their telephone and mobile numbers, email, school name and home address.

"The monitoring of some internet chat rooms in recent years has gone some way to improving the online safety of children and young people but it has been unable to prevent paedophiles from contacting children and young people." ®

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