Tag Archives: chat services

Female? In a Chatroom? Get Out While You Can

We probably didn’t need an academic study to tell us this, but the figures are still quite surprising: The University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering has, in a study released today, found that chat room participants with female usernames received 25 times more threatening and/or sexually explicit private messages than those with male or ambiguous usernames:

Female usernames, on average, received 163 malicious private messages a day in the study, conducted by Michel Cukier, assistant professor in the Center for Risk and Reliability in the Clark School’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and an affiliate of the university’s Institute for Systems Research, and sophomore computer engineering student Robert Meyer.

First off, I have several questions. What is a School of Engineering doing in a study like this? Isn’t this more of a sociology, or anthropology type research project? Secondly, what were a couple of fellas doing impersonating females in chatrooms? And, more importantly, what names did they use? Thirdly, 163 sounds a lot. How long were they online for?

The study, the press release says, “focused on internet relay chat or IRC chat rooms, which are among the most popular chat services but offer widely varying levels of user security. The researchers logged into various chatrooms under female, male and ambiguous usernames, counted the number of times they were contacted and tracked the contents of those messages. Their results will be published in the proceedings of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers International (IEEE) Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks (DSN ’06) in June.” Now I’m really curious. Ambiguous? Sean? Stacey? Bob?

Seriously, though, this kind of thing is pretty awful. But it’s not new. I did my own bit of sleuthing back in 1997 pretending to be a female in some chatroom or other and was approached by more men, or people claiming to be men, than a nun at a bishops’ convention. I can’t imagine it’s gotten any better. And, as the study points out, this kind of thing is by no means reserved for adults. Their advice: use ambiguous or gender-nonspecific names when you register, and be alert. If you need any good pseudonyms for this kind of thing, I’m collecting fake spam names here.

News: More Bad News For Chat

 Bad news for those of us who use third party programs to collect all our instant messaging accounts. I use Trillian, which does a great job of allowing me to access ICQ, Yahoo, AOL and MSN from one window. Not for long, though: CNET reports that Yahoo is planning an upgrade to its instant messaging software that will block access via such third-party IM applications. The reason: to protect IM users from unwanted spamming from advertisers.
 
Yahoo’s announcement, CNET reports, comes on the heels of similar news from rival IM software maker Microsoft that it plans to bar third-party client software from gaining access to its MSN Messenger IM applications. On Oct. 15 Trillian users will also lose access to the Microsoft IM client.
 
I think the spam argument is specious. I can well understand Yahoo and co not liking folk such as Trillian piggybacking their (free) chat services but to blame spam is just silly. To do in the same breath as suggesting they’re in favour of some general standard that would allow folk from, say, ICQ, to chat with someone from MSN is also pretty pathetic. These services have been around for more than five years now, and that no such standard exists is absurd. That’s why I’ve used Trillian and I’ll continue to do so.