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MSN closes chat - Freeserve welcomes new users
Wednesday 24 September 2003 16:25:00 by Sebastien Lahtinen

The Microsoft Network, commonly known as MSN announced this morning its plans to close its unmoderated chat room services next month on the grounds that they feel that children's safety is at risk. Microsoft is planning to keep some unmoderated chat rooms in the U.S. but restricting them to credit card subscribers. Already, internet users have criticised this move and we couldn't agree more. Users should note that this does not affect MSN Messenger.

Microsoft's decision is not going to affect the safety of children online in any positive way. On the contrary, they will drive those looking to "chat" into other even less controlled environments where they may be in even more danger. BBC reports that some children's charities welcome the move whilst others have been less positive showing a distinct different in the level of technical awareness of those organisations.

In a poll being carried out by the BBC (here), with over 8,000 votes cast, the results are almost 50/50 with a small majority favouring keeping chat rooms open indicative of the panic and misunderstanding that most Internet users have about technologies they do not understand. It's about time that adults realise that "The Internet" is not a new version of the babysitter taking over from the television/video but that it is a communications medium and letting children roam free without any thought, discussion or monitoring is no different to letting them loose in an large city.

Freeserve has issued a statement explaining their bemusement at the MSN decision and claim it is nothing short of a PR coup and describing such actions as "nothing short of reckless". They believe that chatting on the internet is not going to disappear simply because one of the larger networks ceased to offer it and rather than solving the problem by offering more control to parents, etc. they are driving it underground.

"Chat is an intrinsic part of the Internet and it's not going to go away. We know about the problems of chat rooms but the answer is not shutting them down,
it's about constantly looking at ways to make them safer for users, with parental controls, practical safety advice and moderation, especially in those areas
targeted at the vulnerable.

Freeserve requires all our chat room users to register with us so we know who they are. On top of this, we invest in the moderation of our chat rooms for
younger users so they always know there is someone in the chat room watching out for them and their safety.

All MSN is doing is sending chat room users underground. MSN's 1 million plus chat room users are not going to stop using chat, MSN are simply moving the
problem elsewhere.

Had Freeserve been given the opportunity to consult with MSN on this issue, we could have worked with them to build industry wide best practice and we are surprised by MSN's move because we know that like Freeserve, they were already working with the Home Office on this.

Now Freeserve has got to anticipate a big increase in chat room usage when MSN's chat rooms shut down next month and we are already looking at new measures to manage this."

Freeserve Statement

We would advise parents to talk to their children about how to use the Internet and deal with difficult situations. Common advice given to parents is to make sure children are aware they should never give out personal information on-line and never meet anyone they meet online without a parent or other responsible adult. Parents should also try to locate Internet connected computers in common areas such as the living room where they can keep an eye on the amount and type of Internet use their children engage in. [seb]

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