Yahoo fails to kill porn groups and clubs

A Kiwi anti-child-porn activist has fingered Yahoo's 'groups' -- arenas for discussion among users -- as among the worse disseminators of child-porn images. And his allegations appear to be substantiated.

A Kiwi anti-child-porn activist has fingered Yahoo’s “groups” — arenas for discussion among users — as among the worse disseminators of child-porn images. And his allegations appear to be substantiated.

Yahoo in the US last month announced it was ceasing to promote sexually related goods in its shopping and auction areas, citing user concern. Yahoo Australia/NZ is also doing this once current contracts expire.

Wellington-based Les Eldridge, founder of the Child Safety First movement (www.childsafety1st.org.nz), says Yahoo discussion groups account for a significant proportion of the sources of child porn his movement identified over recent weeks. These sites are misleadingly referred to as “child porn websites” in some media reports of Child Safety First’s activities.

A scan through Yahoo’s groups reveals group names clearly indicating child-porn content. Clicking on most of these group names simply produces the message “Ooops ... There is no group called [name]”. They appear to have been removed by Yahoo, but Yahoo Australia/NZ spokeswoman Anna Featherstone declines to confirm this.

Eldridge says most of the offending groups are shortlived, although some do successfully trigger. On experimentally “joining” two such available groups — through a remote PC and temporary email address — a Computerworld staffer could view pictures of nude and provocatively posed girls clearly under the age of consent. Later — and after “unsub-scribing” from the group — he received emails of material depicting sexual activity by obviously underage girls on adult males.

Yahoo’s “clubs” — a more elaborate arena for social interaction, allowing users to “chat” textually and orally in real time and post messages and images on a bulletin board — were also found in at least one instance to contain explicit nude images, though in this case of a woman of consenting age.

An attempt to access some clubs or individual images within club messages brought an “adult content” warning with a button to click to declare the user is over 18, but these warnings appear only sporadically.

Yahoo Australia’s Featherstone says in an email statement: “In our Communities and Communications services, where the balance around speech activities is more difficult to strike [than with selling of goods], we are enforcing our terms of service with regard to adult content through a variety of methods.” She says the company will continue to implement technological tools such as filters, eliminate categories and “human resources”.

Yahoo’s terms include the clause: “You agree to not use the service to ... upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any content that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libellous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable” As for “adult” goods in its shops and auctions, Featherstone says Yahoo Australia & NZ will be honouring its current contracts with adult banner advertisers and Adultshop, but will not be renewing them.

Eldridge says none of the child-porn images he has seen in his investigation of Yahoo groups and other sources appear to be coming from webservers in New Zealand.

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