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Yahoo! clamps down on predatory chat

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Yahoo! has agreed to ban the creation of new chatrooms with names that promote sex between adults and minors.

The announcement follows the company's decision to suspend all user-created chatrooms in June this year, following complaints that some of them were being used by child predators to groom minors.

Yahoo! says it has now closed around 70,000 chat rooms that appeared to encourage illegal activity. Some of the chat rooms had names like "girls13 & up for much older men", "8-12 yo girls for older men", and "teen girls for older fat men". Many of these were lurking in the Teen chat, or even Schools and Education categories.

If the company does decide to allow user-created chat rooms again, it says it will now screen all the names and will remove any deemed offensive with 24 hours. It will also make it easier to report and follow up "inappropriate" behaviour in chatrooms and will alert users that their IP address are being logged. It has also agreed to do more to educate children about online safety, including making a donation to a national charity for missing children, and running free banner adverts for the same organisation.

The closure of the chat rooms follows investigations by authorities in New York and Nebraska after they were tipped off about children having free access to adult chat rooms.

The Attorneys General of the two states said that an investigator posing as a 14-year-old girl "received 35 personal messages of a sexual nature" in just 25 minutes.

"We need to be vigilant to protect our children," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. "It is imperative that parents, industry, prosecutors and lawmakers all work together to identify and address possible threats, and that we teach our children to protect themselves from those who would do them harm."

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said that the agreement with Yahoo (which you can read here, in all its pdf glory) will mean online predators have fewer opportunities to prey on children. ®

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