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Chatroom ban prompts fierce debate

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How MSN announced the news in the UK

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Microsoft's decision to close unsupervised Internet chat rooms in many countries has triggered a heated debate among free speech advocates, children's rights groups and Microsoft rivals.

Children's charities have welcomed the decision saying the move has been long overdue -- but warn it may attract children to other sites which may be more harmful.

But others argue Microsoft is not the correct authority to take on the policing of the Internet, and say the decision will deepen the "digital divide" between rich and poor.

John Carr, Internet advisor to the children's charity NCH, told CNN the decision was "good, but sad."

"I think what we are seeing here is Microsoft saying it is turning its back on the old anarchic Internet, with all the attendant worries and dangers with pedophile abuse and spam," he said.

"They want to position themselves as a family-friendly company, and that old bit of the Internet doesn't fit into that old business model."

He added: "If Microsoft reach the view that they can't safety continue to provide a service sufficiently safely to children, they are certainly morally, and possibly even legally, obliged to do stop doing so.

"We have all known there has been an issue around safety in children's chatrooms, but we haven't been able to solve it until now."

Chris Atkinson, Internet safety expert at the NSPCC, told the UK's Press Association: "This announcement is a very positive step forward and will help close a major supply line for sex abusers who go to great lengths to gain access to innocent children by grooming them on the Internet.

"For too long we have been told by the Internet industry that chatrooms are global and that nothing could be done to stop their escalation and their use by adults who target children."

But he warned some children may go to other chatrooms.

"I think some children will stop going into chatrooms because of this decision. But some children will go to other chatrooms," he added.

But Will Doherty, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates the free flow of information online, told CNN the decision would contribute to the "digital divide" and create a "gated community" on the Internet.

"It means that only people who can afford the price of entry can chat without the distractions of spam and so on," he added.

Microsoft's rival AOL -- parent of CNN -- said it already used adult moderators in its subscription chatrooms.

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