Vodafone will block children from chatrooms

(News.com.au) VODAFONE Australia will lock children out of its mobile phone chatrooms from early next year in an effort to protect them from sexual predators.

The mobile phone carrier has been monitoring its mobile chatrooms to protect children from online predators since late 2004.

But spokesman Greg Spears said yesterday it was no longer economically sustainable for the carrier to continue providing the service.

"If you consider the fact that all of the messages in the chatrooms have to be pre-monitored and vetted by a team of people, I'd suggest that it starts to become a bit uneconomical to be hosting that service for under-18s," he said.

The carrier said the chatrooms would be made available only to adults when the company launches its new adult verification system, Parental Lock, which is scheduled to be included on all Vodafone mobile handsets from March next year.

Vodafone Australia was among the first mobile carriers in the region to introduce mobile chatroom monitoring. The company's decision came on the same day popular social networking internet site Facebook was hit with legal action in the US for failing to protect young users from predators.

New York State Attorney-General Andrew Cuomo issued proceedings against Facebook yesterday after a review revealed alleged defects in the site's safety controls. Mr Cuomo said the shortcomings contrasted with assurances made by the company.

New York investigators posed as underage users to test Facebook's safety controls and procedures. They were solicited by adult sexual predators and could access pornographic images and videos, Mr Cuomo said.

"It appears that Facebook has not significantly altered its representations about safety and inappropriate content on the site," he said.

"It does not have the right to represent that its site is safe and that it promptly responds to complaints when such statements are not accurate."

The subpoena comes as US states investigate Facebook, MySpace (owned by News Corporation, publisher of NEWS.com.au) and other social networking sites over the adequacy of protection measures for young users.

Reports yesterday that the world's largest software company, Microsoft, was looking to secure a stake in Facebook for between $US300 million ($357.8 million) and $US500 million makes the company, which began as a modest US college student network, worth an estimated $US10 billion. It has about 39 million members worldwide.

Australian Family Association spokeswoman Angela Conway said parents still did not understand the potential for children to be in harm's way on a social networking site.

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