Yahoo Yanking Minor-Sex Chat Rooms

Yahoo Inc. said Wednesday it will bar chat rooms that promote sex between minors and adults and restrict all chat rooms to users 18 and older.

The Internet portal also will prescreen the names of all user-created chat rooms if and when it restores the ability to create them.

The changes come under an agreement with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (search) and Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (search).

"These efforts are consistent with and build upon our long-standing commitment to providing a safer and more secure online experience for consumers," Yahoo spokeswoman Mary Osako said.

In June, while still in discussions with the attorneys general, Yahoo voluntarily removed or barred the use of about 70,000 user-created chat rooms following complaints that some had names suggesting they facilitated illegal conduct, including sex between adults and minors.

Under the agreement, Yahoo will prescreen all user-created chat room names should it restore that feature. Osako did not say when that might happen, but said any decision would be based on making improvements "to enhance the user experience and compliance with our terms of service."

Yahoo also will deny posting of all rooms that encourage sex acts between adults and minors. Should any slip through, Yahoo must purge such chat rooms within 24 hours from when it becomes aware of them.

The company also will eliminate the teen chat category, although it was not clear how the company would prevent children from signing up as adults because credit cards aren't required.

"We need to be vigilant to protect our children," Spitzer said in a prepared statement. "It is imperative that parents, industry, prosecutors and lawmakers all work together to identify and address possible threats."

Bruning said the agreement means "our children are safer online and predators have fewer opportunities to prey on them."

Among the illicit chat rooms removed were those with labels such as "girls 13 & up for much older men," "8-12 yo girls for older men," and "teen girls for older fat men." Many of these were located within the "Schools and Education" and "Teen" chat categories.

An undercover investigator, posing as a 14-year-old while visiting one of those chat rooms, received 35 personal messages of a sexual nature over a single 25-minute period, the attorneys general said.

Spitzer and Bruning said they launched their investigations earlier this year after receiving tips that children had unfettered access to adult chat rooms.

Other measure announced under the agreement:

— Yahoo will make it easier to report any threats to child safety, give priority to such complaints and designate specific employees to do so.

— Yahoo will develop educational materials and feature them on the Yahoo network, promoting the safe use of chat rooms.

— Yahoo will donate $175,000 to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's (search) New York affiliates, and provide banner advertising to that organization targeted to teens.