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MSN begins closing its chatrooms

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The move has been prompted by child safety concerns.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Microsoft has closed its free Internet chatrooms in 28 countries because of fears over pedophiles and junk e-mailers.

The software giant's online service, MSN, on Tuesday cut back its chatrooms in most of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, New Zealand, Australia and Latin America. But it will continue to offer unsupervised access to users who subscribe to at least one other paid MSN service in the United States, Canada, Japan and Brazil.

Concern has risen over court revelations in the United Kingdom that pedophiles use chatrooms to "groom" youngsters and build up sexual profiles of young girls.

MSN spokesman Matt Whittingham told CNN last month when the company made its announcement: "Recently we have become increasingly concerned about the level of inappropriate communication, including spam, the grooming of children by pedophiles, and sexually explicit language and imagery in chatrooms."

But MSN has come in for criticism for its move, with rivals saying "blanket closure" was "not necessarily the answer."

Nick Mason Pearson, of MSN's UK rival Freeserve, told CNN that ending the service would "only drive users underground."

"The Internet is an intrinsic part of people's lives and chatrooms are here to stay. So if people close them down users will find less safe places to go."

He said the risks involved with grooming was "tiny" and that moderating the sites rather than "knee-jerk" reaction was the best option.

"What Freeserve is trying to do is make it safer with parental controls and advice."

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