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After Outcry, Yahoo Drops Plan to Peddle Porn

BY Joshua Mercer

April 29-May 5, 2001 Issue | Posted 4/29/01 at 1:00 PM

 

SAN DIEGO — When Susan Fay heard that Yahoo! Inc. planned to sell hard-core pornographic videos on its popular portal Web site, she didn't worry about her own children, who were grown.

She worried about San Diego County's children.

That's because Fay, a member of San Diego County's school board, knows how easy it would be for young children to stumble into lewd and obscene images while using computers in the schools that she represents.

But just as Fay was preparing her complaint to Yahoo, the company announced April 13, Good Friday, that it was abandoning its decision to sell pornography — a total reversal in just two days.

“My letter was ready to go,” said Fay. “I was very surprised that they pulled it. It was the fastest thing I've ever seen.”

Pro-family groups applauded Yahoo's decision as proof that what's good for the family is good for business.

“The pro-family movement is pro-capitalism. Companies like Yahoo provide jobs,” said Jeff Breedlove, a spokesman for the Sacramento, Calif.-based Capitol Research Institute. “Yahoo realized ‘Our customers don't want porn.’ It proves that businesses can be pro- family.”

The decision by Yahoo received significant media attention because it is one of the most recognized Internet brand names, reaching 192 million users every month.

Yahoo officials would only comment for this story through a written statement by company president Jeff Mallett.

“Many of our users voiced concerns this week about some of the products sold by merchants on Yahoo! Shopping. We heard them and swiftly responded,” Mallett said. “We consistently strive to act responsibly and constantly evaluate our policies based on what our users tell us.”

Mallett added that Yahoo no longer would renew advertising contracts with pornographic companies.

Said Breedlove, “Not only [is Yahoo] not expanding, now [it] won't renew contracts for the banners. That's a victory for God.”

Fay thinks that much of the credit for the company's quick turnaround belongs to the hard work of family groups like Capitol Resource Institute, which had sent her an e- mail about Yahoo!'s new business venture.

“They stand up for the family,” Fay said about the organization, which works with Focus on Family, run by James Dobson. “Without them, Yahoo would have just gone ahead and continued with their plans.”

Not ‘Harmless Fun’

The online pornography industry earns an annual $1.5 billion in sales. Industry experts speculate that there are as many as 1.2 million Web sites containing graphic sexual content.

But Monique Nelson, spokes- woman for Enough is Enough, an anti-pornography group based in Santa Ana, Calif., hopes the Yahoodecision will turn the tide on cyber-smut.

“It really hasn't come on the frontline, it's now conscious to people,” Nelson told the Register. “We've had other issues where people could have jumped up and said No, but they didn't. But they did this time. It was just spontaneous.”

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, deputy director of communications for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, called Yahoo's reversal a “wise decision,” because of the dangers of pornography.

“It's not harmless. Any understanding of pornography shows that it's associated with crime and denigration of people,” said Sister Walsh. “If Yahoo wants to associate with families, it doesn't want to associate with porn.”

And it turned out such a decision was bad for business, she added.

Business experts agreed. Safa Rashtchy, an analyst for U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, told Reuters that the decision is more important for Yahoo's public perception than for financial implications. Yahoo posted revenues of just over $750 million last year. Of that, perhaps $7 million to $10 million came from pornographic sales.

After observing so much cultural decline in today's society, Fay is simply happy to have a quick and decisive victory. “We're so used to hitting a wall,” she confessed, “that I forgot that God can step in and make something like this happen.”

Josh Mercer writes from Washington, D.C.