Habbo Hotel shuts down chat after pornography claims
Published Jun 13 2012, 14:15 BST | By Andrew Laughlin
The maker of Habbo Hotel has muted all conversion on the kids' social network after a report highlighted "shocking lapses in moderation", leading Tesco and WH Smith to withdraw advertising from the site.
Sulake Corporation has confirmed that the chat ban will remain on the site while it runs an internal investigation into allegations in a Channel 4 News report.
Channel 4 News yesterday exposed widespread sexual and pornographic chat on Habbo Hotel
, a Finnish website that is claimed to be "the world's largest social game and online community for teenagers".
Players in the game create avatars and enter the virtual hotel, where they can move around, chat to others in public or private, and buy goods to furnish their own room.
A journalist for Channel 4 spent two months playing the game, under the guise of an 11-year-old girl, and frequently experienced chat of a "sexual, perverse, violent, pornographic" nature.
Other users also frequently tried to tempt her to leave the site and chat on other services, such as MSN and Skype. This follows previously claims that paedophiles had used Habbo Hotel to 'groom' their victims.
After the report aired on Channel 4 last night (June 12), Tesco and WH Smith immediately pulled their gift cards from sale on Habbo Hotel.
A WH Smiths spokeswoman said: "We were concerned to learn of the allegations about Habbo Hotel made in the Channel 4 news report. In response, we have currently taken this product off sale, pending further investigation."
A Tesco spokesman said: "Following this investigation, we have taken the decision to remove the Habbo Gift Card from sale."
Electronics Arts, the GAME retail chain and children's charity NSPCC have not indicated yet whether they will also withdraw their advertising and sales from the site.
Habbo Hotel maker Sulake has now moved to disable all chat on the network and review its long-term plans for the Habbo community.
"I am greatly saddened that following reports of abusive behaviors amongst a very small part of the Habbo community we have taken the decision to mute all conversations across the site," said Paul Lafo, the chief executive of Sulake, in a blog post
"We are still reviewing our long-term plans for the Habbo community, and would like to thank our millions of loyal users for their support at this challenging time."
He added: "This decision has not been taken lightly and underlines the company's continuing commitment to ensure that all our site users remain safeguarded from inappropriate behaviour and conversations.
"Our internal investigation is currently ongoing, but we will be sure to inform all users of further developments in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, my thanks for your patience and understanding."
A BBC report yesterday said that venture capital firm Balderton has dropped its stake in Sulake over the Channel 4 News allegations.