Chatroom closure panned

Rival companies have accused Microsoft of cynical commercialism for pulling the plug on its Internet chatrooms.

The company posted messages on thousands of its chatrooms this week telling users the services would be withdrawn on October 14.

MSN — the Internet arm of Bill Gates’s Microsoft empire — said it took the decision after a series of high-profile cases involving children being abused by adults they had met in chatrooms.

The move was welcomed by children’s charities, but other providers of Internet services condemned it. The announcement was seen by some as having more to do with business than a moral crusade.

Alex Kovach, managing director of Lycos United Kingdom and Ireland, said the move was “irresponsible’’ and the industry should be focusing on how to provide a safe environment for chat.

Kovach said chatrooms were here to stay.
“Our chatrooms have 100 supervisors in the UK, we have records of Internet providers’ addresses and we are Home Office compliant.”

Kovach said there were commercial motives behind Microsoft’s decision. “Microsoft is finding it difficult to make money from chat and is moving people towards instant messaging, which has a better ability to make money. Yet they have claimed the moral high ground.’‘

Freeserve, another UK Internet service provider, also accused Microsoft of cloaking a commercial decision with concern for child welfare.

“We are bemused that MSN has managed to pull off something of a PR coup with this announcement, giving the impression of being respectable and responsible,’’ it said in a statement. “All MSN is doing is sending chatroom users underground.’‘

UK ISP Freeserve requires all chat-room users to register with it, so it knows who they are. There are moderators in chatrooms for younger users. — Â

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