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.


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.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email customerservices@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here