Microsoft to pull plug on free chat

Microsoft is pulling the plug on its free chat service the company revealed on Tuesday.

Citing a rise in spam and offensive material, the company plans to eliminates its chat services completely in 28 countries, including Australia, while restricting access to the chat groups in the U.S.

The changes will take place, effective Oct. 14, when MSN's chat services will be suspended, a Microsoft spokeswoman confirmed.

"MSN chat will become a subscription-only service in the U.S.," said the spokeswoman. "Anybody will be able to view the chat rooms, but you must have a subscription to MSN (Microsoft Network) to participate," she said. This means that U.S. users who want to use Microsoft's chat site will now have to pay, at least, the US$19.95 fee for MSN Extra Storage program, she said.

In a statement ninemsn, Microsoft's Australian online branch said: "These changes are intended to better protect children from unknown users and to help protect people from unsolicited information such as spam. ninemsn will continue to offer moderated celebrity chat sessions from time to time."

Not all free chat services will disappear, however. Users in Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Brazil will still have access to free moderated chat, the spokeswoman said.

AOL and Yahoo continue to offer chat services.

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