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02 April 2004

Now MSN's member directory had to go...

MSN UK has "temporarily closed access to the MSN Member Directory". The Register contacted Microsoft's press office and was given this statement:

"While MSN Member Directory does not allow people to directly search for profiles of MSN Members by age for age groups under age 20, it does currently allow searching for MSN user profiles using other criteria, with results that may include people under 20.

"While we have not received any reports of this capability being exploited, MSN has shut down the Member Directory in the UK as a preventative measure, based on that local market's request.

"In the April timeframe, MSN will deliver a global solution that will prevent people from finding profiles of MSN members under age 18, unless they know their direct screen name.

"This will help to further deliver a more secure online experience for children by ensuring that their details cannot be accessed in the MSN Member Directory."

While I think the new contact model they're proposing for under-18s is a good move, I do wonder why MSN has such a dramatically under-prepared holding page in place, when the flaws in their member search can't be a shock discovery. Martin Belam described the obvious problem very well shortly after MSN closed its UK chat rooms last year and started promoting its IM product as a "safe way of communicating".

I attended a focus group with parents last month and learnt that while almost all of them banned chat for their children, they were convinced that IM only allowed their kids to talk to their real-life friends. However, for teenage girls, IM contact lists are another way of confirming popularity; the more 'friends' the better (see BuddyZoo for an application built around this kind of popularity contest). While girls don't often trawl the directory looking for new contacts, they are very keen to add friends of friends.

Perhaps this mismatch between parental belief and child behaviour was becoming increasingly untenable for MSN in the UK?

See also: The UK Home Office's Taskforce for Child Protection on the Internet

Update: The promised change has been implemented and profiles for under-18s can't be accessed via the Member Directory. They're still easily accessed via the MSN Groups service, though, and members joining a new group have a profile that defaults to display full email address. I wonder why MSN UK bothered? It's not like someone trying to find under-18s wouldn't be able to make a quick guess about what groups they'd be interested in.

Posted at 05:26 PM in Children and teens | Permalink


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Whilst I agree that taking all possible preventative measures to protect children's online safety is of utmost importance, I fail to understand how the removal of msn's member directory will help in any way. There are hundreds more 'guilty' websites out there that allow people to search for age groups as young as 13. I don't believe taking away a site that allows every individual on msn to express themselves is the way forward.
The dropping of the UK directory seems to put across that only children from the UK deserve to be kept safe. I don't see the US planning a similar move, and the problem is considerably worse over there.
The correct action to take - and this has always been my belief - is to educate the world youth. You can't protect children that don't want to be protected. Too many times I've recieved messages from people on websites like www.faceparty.com (note that this site requires you to be 16 or over to join) whose profiles state that they are 18 or so when, in fact, they are much younger. There are also profiles, from obviously underage teens, I have noticed on said websites that list hobbies such as sex and 'fooling around with boys'. I'm not telling anyone how to raise their children, but unless you can educate your children that advertising the fact that they enjoy underage sex is only going to put them in danger, then a lot more innocent (not that msn has ever been innocent of anything ;)) websites are going to end up as nostalgic memories of how the internet used to be a fun, expressive passtime.

Posted by: deadstar at 6 Apr 2004 07:53:54

To my complete surprise, I found this website while trying to search the MSN Member Directory for people under 18 years of age.
I am 14 and have just recently started using the MSN Messenger Service. As it is the summer holidays, I do not have contact with a lot of associates from school, and thought the directory would be a good way of finding some contacts that I knew personally. Frustrated by the fact that every search in the directory came up only with contacts over 18 years of age, I used a search engine to try and find out how to search for contacts who were under 18. My first hit brought me here and my mystery was solved! I can understand why MSN have withdrawn the directory service for under 18s as my first thoughts of an open directory were that it could lead to childrens identities being revealed to Pedophiles e.t.c, but couldn't MSN have made it clearer that they had performed this act? It makes life a little easier for the law abiding citizens. I agree wholeheartedly with the authors points on teenagers exploiting the fact that they are sexually active and that information about children can still be retrieved from 'Groups' If these 'silly little children' could take the saftey advice they are given by so many people today, perhaps MSN would have kept the Directory open... and I could be talking to my friends right now, instead of composing this bordom fuelled note!
All in all, I think that all children using the MSN service are safer with the main threat from these monsters being extinguished along with the directory but why can't MSN think about the consequenes of there actions before putting there well thought out ideas to use.

Posted by: Paul A O'Hare at 11 Jul 2004 01:49:56

I belive this is really really really lame. Its not like pedophiles are the only ones useing the internet, or the only ones looking for people under 18. I am looking for my friends msn names and cant get any of them. This was a precaution that diddent need to be taken. If some pedophile wants to find somone under 18 he will use Yahoo member search this was uncalled for.

Posted by: sam at 27 Jul 2004 04:46:22

I can see both sides of the issue. I thing that this is a good idea to help pervent some messed up people from seeing younger peoples profiles but i am only 15 and when im tring to find some of the friends that i met this summer (that are all under 18) I cant find them. I feel that they shoudl thing of a way for younger people to veiw other younger peoples profiles.

Posted by: Chris at 27 Aug 2004 14:51:07

personally i am under 18 i am infact 14 and would love to have a search engine so i can find school classmates who i have lost contact with since primary school. most children wouldnt exploite themselves and i do agree that they may but in this case a strong filter should be added to stop such things going through.
thank you iccle_em

Posted by: iccle_em at 30 Aug 2004 16:24:42

i think what msn have done with their member directory is absolutely ridiculous, because i am 16, but i am unable to find people my own age to contact about alking on msn messenger, all it means now is if children search msn's member directory they are ONLY going to find older people to talk to, so has what they done solved the problem? or just made it worse? because now, if children want someone new to talk to, they will ONLY find older people than themselves, they can no longer find people their own age to talk to!!

Posted by: LWAH at 14 Sep 2004 22:56:07

really i would just like to meet new people i am 14 years old. i have alot ov msn addys but love to meet some new people cuz i dont really get out much so email me if u wanna

Posted by: leanne at 3 Oct 2004 20:22:28

I think that this is the most fucked up thing ever.. i cant find people on msn that are my own age to talk to.. its totally fucked and i think they should change it back cuz i dont wanna talk to people who are 50 fuggen years old! :|

Posted by: Tom at 9 Nov 2004 10:25:48

What tha fuck is wrong with searching for ppl under 18. MSN just couldn't suck more. I wish it dies. People should use Yahoo! messenger or ICQ or Skype. MSN sucked, sucks and will forever suck to the last bit!

Posted by: kill bill at 21 Nov 2004 23:04:17

i agree that what msn has done is bull shit i am 14 and say that what msn has done i hate i mean come on world

Posted by: RYAN at 27 Dec 2004 18:23:08

I think this is totally shite!I have searched for people my age every time I logged in for about two weeks now,and that's me just found this!I agree totally with 'LWAH'on this page.I'm 12 and wanna find my pals addys from school 'coz I always forget to ask them,and I can't.It's totally shit if you ask me.Add me if you wanna my addy is [deleted]@hotmail.co.uk.Bye!Bye!

Posted by: Dani at 7 Jan 2005 15:49:16

i have any 1 got msn if u have plz give me ur addy and we will have fun chatting i am 14 and i am a girl from wales

Posted by: sophie at 9 Feb 2005 17:26:34

joke i am 12

Posted by: sophie at 9 Feb 2005 17:28:01

dani give me ur msn addy and we can chat and eny body else if they want is every 1 here send me ur addys plz plz plz plz plz

Posted by: sophie at 9 Feb 2005 17:30:30

MsN has never become so despised until they shut off the damn server. If Uk wants to prevent pedophilia they should impose harsher laws on those bastards and get more cops on the road rather than shut off our gateway to communication.

Posted by: Ed at 13 Feb 2005 00:17:44

you are all snaggle teeth losers, fuck brits, they suck at everything and rely on a fucking figure head, fuck yer nasty teeth, yer queen and shitty ass tea!

Posted by: tony at 20 Feb 2005 03:45:42

hia am so brd at da mo n ardli any1 is on msn im 14 n am a gal xxxx add me if u wnt

Posted by: alex at 24 Mar 2005 16:15:17

hi do u want to talk

Posted by: suzanne at 8 Apr 2005 12:19:19