Microsoft announced this morning that, to reduce criminal exploitation of children, pornographic spam, and other inappropriate uses, the company will shut down its free MSN chat rooms in Asia, Europe, and Latin America and will limit the service in Brazil, Canada, Japan, and the United States. The changes will take effect October 14, according to Microsoft, and will affect all the countries in which MSN is available. Executives from the company noted that in recent months, as most legitimate users have moved from chat rooms to Instant Messaging (IM) for online chat, chat rooms have increasingly been filled with inappropriate content for children.
   "We recognize that \[this inappropriate conduct and content\] is a common industrywide problem," MSN's Lisa Gurry said. "We've taken a look at our service and how we can make efforts to step up our efforts to provide a safe environment ... The change is intended to help protect MSN users from unsolicited information such as spam and to better protect children from inappropriate communication online." The company's decision to change its chat strategy comes in the wake of a sharp increase in high-profile cases worldwide in which sexual offenders and other miscreants have lured children and other people to meet in person after chatting online.
   In Brazil, Canada, Japan, and the United States, MSN's chat rooms will stay open, but users will need to participate in at least one paid MSN service, ensuring that Microsoft has users' credit card numbers and other personal information on file in the event of abuse. Microsoft currently provides local MSN content in 33 countries and 17 languages, and the company says that more than 200 million people use the service worldwide; more than 1.2 million people access the MSN chat rooms.