The New York Times
April 14, 2001, Saturday, Late Edition - Final
After Complaints, Yahoo to Close Access to Pornographic
By SAUL HANSELL
Faced with a flood of criticism from users, Yahoo, the vast Internet
service, reversed a longstanding policy and said yesterday that
it would remove a wide range of pornographic material from its site
and make other such information harder to find.
Yahoo closed a section devoted to pornographic videos in its shopping
area, and it said that it would no longer take advertisements from
pornographic Web sites. The company also said it was moving to restrict
what it termed "inappropriate material" from home pages
created by its members of its Geocities service. Yahoo said it would
make it more difficult to use its popular search engine to find
listings for pornographic Web sites.
Currently, any Yahoo user that types any of hundreds of sexually
related terms into the search engine will be shown a results page
with a list of related sites, with short descriptions compiled by
Yahoo's editors. The advertisement on that page is likely to relate
to pornographic content.
For years, Yahoo officials defended these practices, arguing that
it was simply offering the information of interest to each user.
Those that did not want to see pornographic content, merchandise
and ads, it argued, simply should not search for them.
Yahoo changed its policy after an article appeared in The Los Angeles
Times on Wednesday taking note of the "Adult and Erotica"
section of Yahoo's video shopping area. This section was introduced
last December and contained a directory of adult videos and links
to stores that sell them.
The article unleashed a number of additional news articles on Yahoo's
promotion of pornographic material. Jeffrey Mallet, Yahoo's president,
said the company received 100,000 e-mail messages complaining about
the pornographic content since the article appeared.
"We had very significant feedback from our users," Mr.
Mallett said. "And we felt that they were right that we would
make Yahoo a better experience."
He said that Yahoo chose to change its longstanding policy because
it was serving a broader and more diverse audience than when it
started accepting ads for pornographic sites in 1997. He declined
to say how much money Yahoo would be giving up as a result of the
policy changes other than to say that pornography-related businesses
never represented more than 10 percent of the company's revenue
and that they now account for far less than that.
Yahoo's online shopping area had links to about 100 Internet stores
selling pornographic videotapes and DVD's. As in all sections of
Yahoo's shopping area, merchants pay a commission of 2 percent of
their sales. To get to the adult area, users needed to verify that
they were above 18 by entering a valid credit card number.
For the last two years, Yahoo has sold all of its advertising space
related to pornography to one company, WebPower, which has offices
in San Francisco and Lake Worth, Fla. WebPower operates several
sites, including the Intimate Friends Network, a service matching
exhibitionists and voyeurs. Customers pay a fee to engage in video
chat with more than 35,000 chat hosts running small business. A
variety of topics are offered, but sex predominates.
Officials of WebPower did not return several telephone calls and
e-mail messages seeking comment.
Many of the e-mail messages complaining about Yahoo were prompted
by a campaign by a coalition of anti-pornography groups led by the
American Family Association of Tupelo, Miss., according to Donna
Rice Hughes, an anti-pornography advocate and member of the coalition.
Yesterday, Ms. Hughes praised Yahoo's move.
"The good news is that after the backlash they received that
they have chosen to reverse their decision to sell pornography,"
Ms. Hughes said. "But I would like to see them go further."
She pointed home pages and chat rooms that have pornographic information.
Jeffery Douglas, the chairman of the Free Speech Coalition, the
trade association of the pornography industry, called Yahoo's move
"There is nothing illegal, wrong or fattening about purchasing
routine adult material made for and by consenting adults,"
He said that the Internet was a particularly appropriate medium
for the distribution of sexually related material as consumers risk
neither offending nor being embarrassed by others who might otherwise
observe, say, rentals of pornographic tapes in a local video store.
"The Internet allows people to explore their own sexuality
and their own fantasies without hurting or intruding on anyone,"
Internet sites split on how they approach pornographic content
and advertising. Some Web portals, including Excite and Lycos, accept
ads from pornographic advertisers. MSN from Microsoft and America
Online do not. But all of those sites, in various ways, even America
Online, which promotes itself as being for families, offer a search
engine with a directory listing thousands of pornographic Web sites.
(Microsoft does not operate such a directory itself, but refers
users who type in sexually related search to NightSurf, a sexual
search engine operated by WebPower.)
The controversy came at a difficult time for Yahoo, which is reeling
from a sharp decline in its advertising revenue. On Wednesday, the
company announced its first quarterly loss in two years and said
it would lay off 12 percent of its work force of 3,510.
For more information on Yahoo's decision, see these news articles:
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