Microsoft's MSN to shut down chat service in most world markets, limit U.S. services

Wednesday, September 24th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) _ Microsoft Corp. is shutting down Internet chat services in most of its markets around the world and limiting the service in the United States to help reduce criminal solicitations of children through online discussions.

The moves also should help Microsoft shed some nonpaying users that have dragged on profits, said an analyst who follows the software giant. The changes, which will take effect Oct. 14, were disclosed Tuesday.

In most of its 34 markets in Europe, Latin America and Asia, Microsoft MSN has chosen to simply shut down the chat service. However, MSN will continue to offer chat services to users in the United States, Canada, Japan and Brazil.

Eliminating and curtailing the service will help curb inappropriate uses, MSN spokeswoman Lisa Gurry said, including pornographic spam as well as pedophiles or other sexual predators.

``We recognize that it's a common, industrywide problem,'' she said. ``We've taken a look at our service and how can we make efforts to step up our efforts to provide a safe environment.''

Microsoft officials refused to say how many people use its chat service.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company has about 8.6 million subscribers. Gurry said the number of MSN chat users has been declining as people switch to instant messaging services from companies such as AOL and Yahoo!, as well as MSN.

The move also may help MSN trim the number of free users and help boost its overall revenue, said Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm.

``I think this change will have welcome side effects, like keeping spammers out of the chat rooms,'' he said. ``But fundamentally I believe this is a move to make MSN more profitable. It will allow the company to get rid of some infrastructure that was supporting chat, and to make more money on what it leaves in place.''

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