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Yahoo shifts message board policy

A lawsuit aiming to uncover the identity of derogatory postings about a public company sparks a move to shore up confirmation of who is speaking.

    A lawsuit aiming to uncover the identity of 100 Yahoo message board users who allegedly posted defamatory statements about a public company has sparked the popular portal to shore up confirmation of who is speaking in its public forums.

    Earlier this month, ITEX sued 100 "John Does" for posting messages on a Yahoo Finance message board that criticized the Portland, Oregon, Internet company. One post called its management "blind, stupid, and incompetent," for example.

    ITEX, which operates an online trade center that lets users buy goods and services with cash or through a barter system, claims the statements were false and damaging to the company. The firm filed the lawsuit to track down anonymous Yahoo Finance message board users.

    Yahoo's policy is that it will not give up a message board user's registration information unless it is served with a court order. The only data Yahoo has that might lead back to users is their email addresses, but users have to volunteer the account names and they could be forged .

    Now Yahoo is changing its approach. Like many online sites that require visitors to register for services, Yahoo will attempt to authenticate visitors' email addresses.

    "The thing that has changed is we now send that person an email and ask them to respond," said Mike Riley, producer of Yahoo Finance.

    "We are doing this so that in the rare case that someone is abusive, they will not be able to just re-register," he explained.

    Privacy experts are concerned about online services being forced to hand over chat room or message board users' identities. Privacy advocates say this hinders free and anonymous online speech.

    But Yahoo says it will not turn over just anyone's information.

    "We still only give out information about users when we are legally compelled to do so. This might mean the information we have to hand over is more accurate, but it doesn't change our policy," Riley said.