October 1, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 19  

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MSN ditches free chat to save kids

By Jonathan Yazer
Gazette Writer

In what is described as an effort to offer greater protection to users of its Internet services, Microsoft will be terminating most of its free, unmoderated online chat service in Canada by Oct. 14.

"These changes are intended to help protect users from unsolicited information such as spam and to better protect MSN customers - especially children - from inappropriate communication online," said Lisa Gurry, group product manager for MSN, Microsoft's online subsidiary.

"By putting unmoderated chat behind a 'subscription wall,' only MSN subscribers who have provided a credit card to MSN will be able to actively contribute to chat sessions in unmoderated rooms," explained Microsoft spokesperson Jessica Kellar. With this information, Microsoft hopes to better track those users who abuse the service, including child predators, she added.

Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm based in the United States, cited a statistic from the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children that one in 17 children have faced some kind of unpleasant experience while using the Internet.

"Visiting chat rooms poses the greatest danger for children using the Internet," Helm said. He further noted the new initiative would significantly hamper the efforts of solicitors of spam.

Canadians who want to use unmoderated MSN chat rooms will need to subscribe to another MSN service, such as MSN 8 or Hotmail Extra Storage, stated Rick Broadhead, a Canadian Internet expert.

"It's only fair that MSN receive compensation for improving the services offered to its customers. But $20 isn't much of a deterrent for a child predator," said Jason Rolfe, a fourth-year administration and commercial studies student said.



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