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Yahoo Chat-Room Decision Draws Fire

Yahoo Inc.'s decision to pull the plug on perhaps hundreds of chat rooms following reports that some of them were used to promote sex with minors was an "overreaction" by the entertainment portal, privacy advocates said Thursday.

Yahoo shutdown the chat rooms following complaints from sponsors such as PepsiCo Inc., State Farm Insurance and Georgia-Pacific Corp., The Associated Press reported Thursday. The sponsors were upset over a report by KPRC-TV in Houston that adults in some of the chat rooms were trying to lure children into the virtual meeting places.

Rather than shutdown user-created chat rooms in mass, Yahoo, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., should have targeted only those involved in the illicit behavior, said the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a free speech and privacy advocate in San Francisco.

"This is a real overreaction on the part of Yahoo," Annalee Newitz, policy analyst for the EFF, said. "To just unilaterally shut down chat rooms is really chilling to free speech."

Unless the chat room was obviously involved in illicit behavior, Yahoo should have provided some means for innocent chat room organizers to explain their activities and remain operating.

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