TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Groups Laud Yahoo For Closing Chat Rooms

Groups Laud Yahoo For Closing Chat Rooms

Lisa Minter (
Fri, 24 Jun 2005 13:07:45 -0500

By GREG SANDOVAL, AP Technology Writer

Family advocacy groups lauded Yahoo Inc. on Thursday for closing its
chat rooms to clean up areas that allegedly were used to prey on

Over the past month, pressure has been building on Yahoo to crack down
on chat rooms that promoted sex with minors. After learning some of
their advertisements were showing up in such chat rooms, companies
such as PepsiCo Inc., Georgia-Pacific Corp. and State Farm Insurance
removed their ads.

Yahoo's move came after a lawsuit was filed against the Internet
portal last month on behalf of a 12-year-old molestation victim and
following a long campaign by watchdog groups to persuade Yahoo and
other large Internet portals to purge their sites of child porn. The
suit seeks $10 million in damages.

"The specific reason for the closure not withstanding, this is a
positive a step in the online fight against child exploitation," said
Michelle Collins, director of the exploited children unit at The
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, based in
Alexandria, Va.

Yahoo spokeswoman Mary Osako said the company closed down user-created
sites to make enhancements and to ensure users were adhering to the
site's terms of service.

But after years of trying to persuade Sunnyvale-based Yahoo to go
after child pornographers operating within the chat rooms, critics
suspect the threat of a costly civil suit and the potential loss of
advertising dollars likely prompted Yahoo to act.

Patrick Truman, a senior legal counsel for the conservative Christian
group, Family Research Council and a former federal prosecutor,
believes Yahoo has the means to police its site more effectively than
it does. The company acknowledges that it does not monitor its chat

"I'm glad a suit has finally been brought because it will give someone
access to the way Yahoo operates," Truman said. "Records can now be
subpoenaed that will show the kind of knowledge Yahoo has about the
trade of child pornography in its chat rooms."

In 2002, an FBI investigation revealed that child pornography was
being distributed on a Yahoo Group called Candyman. Yahoo Groups are
similar to chat rooms but allow members to access their own Web site
within Yahoo and communicate via e-mail. Candyman operated two months
before being shut down.

Among the photographs circulated on Candyman was one of a 12-year-old
boy from Georgia who was molested and photographed committing sex acts
against his will, according to the boy's attorney, Adam Voyles.

The lawsuit claims Yahoo, which has until July to respond to the suit,
is liable for what transpired within Candyman.

"These problems are not new," Voyles said. "It's been going on since
the 1990s. Yahoo has not changed its behavior. I hope it does. I hope
they take this opportunity to clean up."

Meanwhile, Yahoo must move to shore up its relationship with some of
its sponsors.

Pepsi removed ads that were being displayed in the suspect chat rooms,
but continued to advertise elsewhere on Yahoo. But Atlanta-based
Georgia-Pacific, the maker of Brawny paper towels, removed all its ads
from Yahoo, company spokeswoman, Robin Keegan said.

"We were absolutely horrified to find out about this," Keegan said,
adding that the company had no knowledge that their ads were appearing
in the chat rooms in question.

Some users who obeyed the site's rules were upset by Yahoo's decision
to close down all user-created sites, posted online complaints about
the decision.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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