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Yahoo UK & Ireland blocks adult chat rooms

The Internet portal changes its U.K. Instant Messenger client so that it blocks access to adult chat rooms based in the United States.

Internet portal Yahoo has changed its U.K. Instant Messenger client so that it blocks access to adult chat rooms based in the United States.

The U.S. version of the software, which anyone can access, will remain unchanged, and people will still be able to get into adult chat rooms based in the United Kingdom.

A Yahoo UK & Ireland representative said the company has made the changes to its service to comply with British law. He said the decision was taken after consultation with children's charities and Internet watchdog groups including ChildNet and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).

The use of the Internet by pedophiles is a growing problem. Members of the world's largest organized Internet child-porn ring, dubbed the Wonderland Club, were convicted in the United Kingdom last month and are due to be sentenced this week. One of the convicted men, interviewed on the TV show "Panorama" this Sunday, praised the Internet for creating a community for people interested in child pornography. Using Internet newsgroups, the club traded thousands of images of babies and children being subjected to sexual abuse.

In response to the publicity surrounding the Wonderland case and several other recent Internet pedophile investigations in the United Kingdom, Yahoo has revealed several initiatives designed to stop illegal activity. In addition to stopping the U.K. Instant Messenger client from reaching adult chat rooms, Yahoo said it will no longer be possible to search the U.S.-based adult section of Yahoo Clubs from the United Kingdom. Yahoo Clubs allows people to create meeting places for those with similar interests.

Yahoo UK & Ireland also reiterates its plans to appoint a social-policy specialist to review the safety of its services; consumers will be encouraged to report potentially illegal activity, said a representative.

The Yahoo Instant Messenger chat service, which allows individuals around the world to communicate freely in real time using an anonymous username, has in the past been linked with Internet pedophiles. Patrick Green was convicted in October 2000 of raping a girl he met through Yahoo's IM service.

"Yahoo is committed to tackling the problem of individuals using our site to harm minors in any way," said a representative for Yahoo UK & Ireland.

However Yahoo believes that it is wrong to single out the Internet as a vehicle for pedophiles. "The issues that the Internet industry is facing are the same as those that society is facing today," said the representative.