September 20, 1999 6:15 PM PDT

Yahoo auction search reveals X-rated material

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A Yahoo auction participant searching for a DVD player this weekend instead found hard-core pornography, a discovery that exposed a substantial breach in the company's system.

In what one Yahoo representative attributed to "human error," dozens of pornographic listings can be found through a simple keyword search unrelated to the pictures. On further research, CNET News.com found thousands more just two links from the search results. All of the listings were available without age verification or log in information.

In addition, at the top of the search results screen, auction users can see thumbnail images of triple-X scenes. The images linked to the actual auction listings, which included full-size versions of the pictures.

Yahoo acknowledged the problem in a phone interview today. Tim Brady, who oversees Yahoo's auction site as the company's vice president of production, said Yahoo's policy requires users to log in and enter a credit card number to view auctions of adult material. But the images and items in question did not require that step.

Although Yahoo tries to prevent minors from viewing adult material on its site, these listings and images are freely available, pointing to the problems companies face in trying to police their ever-growing Web sites.

"We're going to correct this," Brady said. "This is clearly not how it should be."

Brady said the problem would be fixed by the end of the day. As of 5:35 p.m. PT, the listings were still accessible.

Audubon, Pennsylvania, resident Matt Thul said he stumbled across the images while searching for a DVD player Sunday. Thul, 54, said that while he didn't mind Yahoo permitting pornography on its auction site, he worried about children stumbling across the material.

"This is simply inappropriate and unacceptable," Thul said.

Most of the listings Thul encountered seemed to be offered by one seller. By clicking on the listing's user name, an auction user could find 86 listings for "Adult XXX" videos--and more pornographic images.

Brady said Thul was able to access the images because a company employee forgot to designate the area that they were found as an adult area. Thul was able to find the images with his keyword search because the seller had included Thul's terms in his listings.

But a cursory overview of Yahoo's auction site turned up more than one adult area that was open to all users. In fact, CNET News.com found that a Yahoo auction user could access more than 10,000 adult items without having to log in or prove his age.

 

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