Yahoo locks up chat rooms over kid smut

Yahoo has shut down all its user-created chat rooms last week. The world's most popular Internet portal took the extreme step, once it came to its notice that many such chat rooms were created to target minors for sex and sponsors started pulling out.

Many advertisers withdrew their advertisements from such chat rooms once it came to their notice that their logos were appearing in chat rooms used by pornographers and paedophiles. Yahoo finally cracked the whip last week, abruptly shutting down the service without notice.

Advertisements from these companies had appeared with Yahoo chat rooms with names like "Girls 13 and Under for Older Guys."

Said State Farm spokesman Phil Supple: "We were thoroughly appalled when we were told that our ads were appearing on those sites. We took immediate action to see that they were withdrawn."

Yahoo's own chat rooms are still functioning and are monitored. Pepsico, State Farm and Georgia-Pacific withdrew their advertisements after an American television channel ran a program on the chat room being misused for posting pornographic images and soliciting sex with minors.

The TV channel found that some pornographers and paedophiles were using webcams to post pornographic images in chat rooms, while advertising their desire for sex with underage girls.

Yahoo chat service is free for its registered users, which generate revenues through the display of advertisements by sponsors.

Last month, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of a 12-year old molestation victim, following which many child protection groups had called on internet portals to crack down on child smut. The suit seeks $10 million in damages.

Yahoo has not given child porn as a reason for shutting down the service. A Yahoo spokeswoman was reported as saying that Yahoo closed down user-created sites to make enhancements and to ensure users were adhering to the site's terms of service.

Three years back, an investigation by FBI had shown that child pornography was peddled in a Yahoo chat room named Candyman. The chat room operated two months before it was wound up.

Whereas Pepsi and State farm removed their ads only from the suspect chat rooms, Georgia Pacific has pulled out all their ads from Yahoo. Obviously, pressure had built up a little too much over Yahoo before it wielded the stick.

Yahoo is not the first leading portal to take action against child sex in its chat rooms. In 2004, MSN discontinued its chat rooms outside US and made it a limited service for paying customers only. AOL, which has user-created chat rooms has strict rules to segregate children from adult conversations.

Till now, advertisers exercised little control over the chat rooms or sections where their advertisements would appear. They buy advertising spots on websites in bulk, which are then distribted through different sections, often automatically selected by computer programs. All that may change with the Yahoo fiasco, and corporates may turn more choosy about where their names should and should not appear.


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Arbitration the only way to avoid crisis

The news that only three of the West Indies squad selected to tour Sri Lanka have signed the board's match/tour contract raises the likelihood of another damaging dispute in the Caribbean. The long shot could be the cancellation of the trip, or even that the A team will be drafted in to take the places of the rebels, although it is far from certain that many of them would be willing to sign the match/tour contracts either.


The latest standoff has come about because the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has insisted that all the players agree to a controversial clause - the much-debated clause five - which critics claim signs away their personal commercial and image rights, even though the board counters that it does not. This was the same issue which led to several players missing the first Test against South Africa in Guyana in April.


That the board has again attempted to force this clause through has caused considerable unease, even anger, within the squad, and while they backed down two months ago, there seems to be a more steely resolve in their ranks this time. The West Indies Players Association (WIPA) has again found itself at loggerheads with the WICB, but as Dinanath Ramnarine, the WIPA chairman, insists, it is only carrying out the wishes of its members.


The problem the players have with clause five is that it is, in their eyes, so one-sided. The claim is that the board can instruct players to void existing contracts, or decline them the right to enter into new ones, and yet is only willing to pay them on a series-by-series basis. The consensus is that if they had a system of central contracts, then this kind of demand would be more acceptable. The WICB claims that WIPA has not been willing to meet with it to discuss central contracts, although WIPA's response is that this matter cannot be tackled until more fundamental issues have been resolved.
There are further issues in that it is suggested that the deal the board signed with Digicel means that any player "eligible for selection for the national side" falls under this umbrella of being controlled as to what they can and cannot do regarding personal endorsements. That would mean that any West Indies-qualified cricketer could be restricted concerning their use of their personal image rights, and yet get no benefit from the board.


Although the board categorically denies this, the crux of the standoff remains the exact details of the Digicel deal. WIPA is quite adamant that the board has signed over rights over which is has no authority, but the board refuses to release the contract, arguing that it is a commercially-sensitive document and that the WICB, as a private company, has no obligation to make it public. That gives critics ammunition to counter that the deal is so one-sided that Digicel are effectively calling all the shots, adding that it is the very content of the contract which is the reason the board has kept the details close to its chest.


The board's moral high ground has been weakened of late by its reluctance to put certain issues before an independent arbitrator. WIPA is insisting that the WICB's sponsorship with Digicel be included in the adjudication because it believes that players' individual rights were sold to the company. The board wants to limit the adjudication to whether the personal endorsement contracts signed by players with Cable & Wireless were entered into as individuals or as members of the West Indies team. The end result is stalemate. And by insisting that it will abide by the decision of the arbitration, WIPA and the players have stolen the higher moral ground until now occupied by the board.


Behind the scenes, there is much activity, and relations between the players and the board continue to deteriorate. Earlier this week Roger Braithwaite, the WICB's chief executive, looked to shift the blame onto WIPA when he told reporters that his board "had made every attempt to avoid this [situation] by submitting the match/tour contract to WIPA on June 2 but there was no response by WIPA." But Cricinfo has seen a copy of a reply sent by Ramnarine dated June 13 responding to this very matter.


On Wednesday night, Ramnarine made another attempt to resolve the issue by again urging the WICB to agree to arbitration, but on Friday this offer was declined. With every passing day, the suspicion grows that there might be more to the Digicel deal than is being admitted. But if the matter goes to arbitration, then the details of the contract will have to be revealed.


The net result is that the WICB has a squad of three players and it now seems unlikely that it will be able to make that up to a full tour party from within the A team currently in Sri Lanka. That would leave the board either trawling round the islands to find enough players or calling off the tour - and a cancellation would leave it open to financial punishment from the ICC and the Sri Lankan authorities.


The only hope is that the arbitrator is allowed to do what he has been appointed to do and that, one way or the other, a solution is found. But history suggests that this sorry affair has quite some way to run.

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Call centres see politics in sting

The Indian BPO industry sees a political angle to a British tabloid's expose on the apparent breach of security in Indian call centres.

"The authenticity of these claims can be questioned as Barclays Bank is yet to confirm whether the account numbers are original," said former CEO of Wipro Spectramind Raman Roy.

Western countries did not deny the economics of outsourcing but the growing loss of jobs was a very real concern, he added, hinting that this could be one reason behind the latest outsourcing controversy.

A UK research study has shown that by 2008, about 200,000 British jobs will be lost to India, part of 2 million jobs outsourced from Western economies.

"These losses cannot be ignored by any country and it is too premature to consider these allegations as completely true," he added. The authenticity of the photograph on the tabloid's website is also questioned. Experts say the awkward position of the thumb and the blurred sleeve area suggests some possible manipulation with the photo.

Barclays Bank, the bank whose customers' numbers were sold, is not a client of Infinity e-search, the company where the alleged security breach occurred. With so many loopholes in the story, the industry is not worried about any serious repercussions on their business.

"The issue is to outsource or not and not outsource to India as all countries like China and the Philippines have the same level of risk," said Mohit Srivastav, vice-president, Evalueserve. Infinity e-search is not a BPO and is also not a member of Nasscom. The company in its defence stated that it was into web marketing and specialised in Internet search engine optimisation.

"These allegations are baseless as we do not deal with any classified information and do not do the kind of work that is alleged," said Rahul Dutt, MD, Infinity e-search.

Nasscom said the credibility of Indian companies would not be affected as this problem was not unique to any single nation and could affect any country.

In London, Barclays, one of the banks whose data was said to be leaked, said the information did not come from its own operation but probably from a third party that requires customers to provide bank details in sales transactions.

Citibank, ABN Amro, Standard Chartered and HSBC are among financial giants that employ workers in India to serve global customers. HSBC was among those whose data was said to be stolen in the Sun's sting.

HSBC spokeswoman Malini Thadani said the group employed 3,600 in three Indian cities, but none in Delhi. "We haven't got any third parties involved," she said.


Call centres see politics in sting

The Indian BPO industry sees a political angle to a British tabloid's expose on the apparent breach of security in Indian call centres.

"The authenticity of these claims can be questioned as Barclays Bank is yet to confirm whether the account numbers are original," said former CEO of Wipro Spectramind Raman Roy.

Western countries did not deny the economics of outsourcing but the growing loss of jobs was a very real concern, he added, hinting that this could be one reason behind the latest outsourcing controversy.

A UK research study has shown that by 2008, about 200,000 British jobs will be lost to India, part of 2 million jobs outsourced from Western economies.

"These losses cannot be ignored by any country and it is too premature to consider these allegations as completely true," he added. The authenticity of the photograph on the tabloid's website is also questioned. Experts say the awkward position of the thumb and the blurred sleeve area suggests some possible manipulation with the photo.

Barclays Bank, the bank whose customers' numbers were sold, is not a client of Infinity e-search, the company where the alleged security breach occurred. With so many loopholes in the story, the industry is not worried about any serious repercussions on their business.

"The issue is to outsource or not and not outsource to India as all countries like China and the Philippines have the same level of risk," said Mohit Srivastav, vice-president, Evalueserve. Infinity e-search is not a BPO and is also not a member of Nasscom. The company in its defence stated that it was into web marketing and specialised in Internet search engine optimisation.

"These allegations are baseless as we do not deal with any classified information and do not do the kind of work that is alleged," said Rahul Dutt, MD, Infinity e-search.

Nasscom said the credibility of Indian companies would not be affected as this problem was not unique to any single nation and could affect any country.

In London, Barclays, one of the banks whose data was said to be leaked, said the information did not come from its own operation but probably from a third party that requires customers to provide bank details in sales transactions.

Citibank, ABN Amro, Standard Chartered and HSBC are among financial giants that employ workers in India to serve global customers. HSBC was among those whose data was said to be stolen in the Sun's sting.

HSBC spokeswoman Malini Thadani said the group employed 3,600 in three Indian cities, but none in Delhi. "We haven't got any third parties involved," she said.


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