Tesco, WH Smith pull Habbo backing over pornography reports

Tesco and WH Smith have pulled their gift cards from sale on the children’s social network Habbo Hotel following a Channel 4 News investigation that alleged sexually explicit content is being posted on the site.

habbo

The investigation, which aired last night (12 June), alleged the site, which attracts more than 10 million users a month, was allowing users to post pornographic and violent messages – despite the fact that Habbo members are not meant to be over 13 years of age. Channel 4 News says it has passed the “perverse” and “graphic” findings of its investigation to the government.

Habbo’s Finnish parent company, Sulake, has responded to the allegations by suspending conversations on the site. CEO Paul LaFontaine explained on Twitter that “due to the challenging behaviour of a few users we have decided to mute the site and will update you when we have more information.”

Some brand partners, however, have already decided to remove their gift cards from sale on the site. A spokeswoman for WH Smith says: “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 says: “Following this investigation, we have taken the decision to remove the Habbo Gift Card from sale.”

A spokeswoman for children’s charity NSPCC, which promotes its Childline service on the site, would not comment on whether it was planning to remove ads. The charity, however, issued this statement: “ChildLine works with a range of social networking sites, including Habbo, to promote our services and raise awareness among young people on a platform that they use.

“It’s vital that social media companies take online protection very seriously and put measures in place to protect children. If safety processes are found to be lacking, companies have a duty to act quickly to protect the safety of their members. Sites such as the Childline site pre-moderate all user content for extra safety.

EA games, which advertises on the site, and Game, which sells gift cards, both declined to comment when asked to by Marketing Week yesterday.

A BBC report yesterday claimed venture capital firm Balderton had dropped its stake in Sulake over the allegations.

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