The systematic shutdown of Microsoft's MSN chatroom facilities began today, as promised.

Labelled by Microsoft as a magnet for paedophiles and spam email pushers, chatrooms across 28 countries will close later today. Earlier this morning the links to Microsoft's UK chat facilities were still live but access was extremely temperamental.

Instead of pushing its open-format chat forums, the software company is now focusing its efforts on its MSN instant chat facility which requires users to sign up for a username and then allows them to exchange messages only with contacts on their buddy list.

Microsoft today added New Zealand and Australia to its shutdown list, taking its total to 30.

But chat services in the US, Japan and Canada will remain in operation. The reason for this, Microsoft claims, is because those countries operate on a subscription basis and as MSN has billing details, including addresses, of each customer, forum visitors tend to act more responsibly.

MSN said there was no particular order in which each country's forum would be closed.

Other sites such as AOL and Lycos look reluctant to follow suit, although they may simply be hanging around to assess customer response to the decision, which has so far been quite positive.

"If one less chat room, stops one less child from being contacted by a SICKO, then it can only be a good thing and hopefully others will follow suit," said one PC Advisor forum visitor, at the time the announcement was made.

ISP Freeserve is also against closing chat rooms, instead laying policing requirements on the ISPs themselves.

"The use of chatrooms online is here to stay as it has become an integral part of the internet experience in the UK and has many positive, valuable and legitimate applications," said a Freeserve spokesman.

"[We go] to great lengths to continue to try and make the internet as safe a place for children as possible by providing a dedicated chat area for teens which is professionally moderated, has compulsory registration for all users and has clearly marked parental guidelines and controls as well as safety hints and tips for users."

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