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Wednesday, 3 January, 2001, 13:19 GMT
Yahoo looks for hate
Stopped swastika AP
Yahoo is stopping sales of Nazi and race-hate memorabilia
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Yahoo has taken the easy route by deciding to self-regulate the auction of Nazi memorabilia.

The decision is a recognition that it is easier to stop memorabilia reaching a site than it is to spot who is viewing the sales.

Despite this, Yahoo will have some technical hurdles to overcome to make its filtering system work.

Although Yahoo claims it made its choice unilaterally, the decision is widely seen as a response to a French court ruling that decreed Yahoo must stop people in France viewing the offending auctions.

French filter

In November, Yahoo branded French judge Jean-Jacques Gomez "na´ve" for thinking that the internet portal could, in only three months, find a way to stop French users from participating in auctions of Nazi memorabilia on Yahoo's US website.

But its decision to ban the sale of Nazi memorabilia and filter sales with software could do just what the judge wanted.

From 10 January, Yahoo says that all auctions started on its site will be scrutinised by software designed to spot sales of Nazi or race-hate memorabilia.

Every day, about 150,000 new items are put up for auction on Yahoo, far too many to check by hand. Yahoo is likely to use filtering software that will check descriptions of items for offending terms.

Unfortunately, filtering systems have a poor reputation because they tend to be too inclusive. A simple ban on anything associated with the word "nazi" may stop sales of first editions of The diary of Anne Frank or Primo Levi's The Periodic Table.

Yahoo says anyone who thinks their auction has been wrongly stopped can appeal and have the sale scrutinised by people rather than computers.

Checking auctions is far easier than trying to work out where surfers are located. Experts have said the way the internet is organised means there is no easy way to spot all French surfers.

Rival response

It is unlikely that anyone could claim the ban infringes their freedom of expression because there are hundreds of auction sites on the internet, many of which are happy to host sales of items Yahoo has declined. Also, other parts of the Yahoo portal host neo-nazi and supremacist webpages.

Some of Yahoo's competitors have taken a different approach to stopping offending auctions.

Rival eBay uses software that can recognise French language browsers, and its French site does not allow people to search for Nazi items. It also bans the sale of hate materials in Germany, Austria and Italy.

Amazon uses in-house software to recognise French postal addresses and stops anything illegal being shipped to anyone living in the country.

A spokeswoman for QXL said that it relied on its community of buyers and sellers to police auctions and tell it about any that could be offensive.

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See also:

03 Jan 01 | Americas
Yahoo bans Nazi sales
21 Nov 00 | Europe
Yahoo hits back at Nazi ruling
15 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
Press send to censor
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