AltaVista dumps community services, focuses on search

"Our removal of those features was because we have become focused on search for consumers and businesses and those features were not in line with our goals," said company spokesman David Emanuel on Wednesday.

Since September, the company has gradually been shutting down certain community services, Emanuel said. Services such as chat rooms, photo album and Web building capabilities were eliminated during the past three weeks, he said.

AltaVista would not disclose the cost savings associated with eliminating the community services other than to say it was a "huge cost," according to Emanuel. A third-party vendor was used to host its chat rooms.

"Ninety-three per cent of all activities starts with a search," Emanuel said. "Despite our best attempts to add those (community) features, our users want search."

Approximately nine months ago, AltaVista formalised selling its search technology to companies and has an estimated 1,000 corporate clients, including the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), AltaVista spokesman Jim Shissler said. AltaVista, which is owned by Internet holding company CMGI, has 600 employees with the bulk of them focusing on search software and Internet search services.

During the time that AltaVista was deciding to shutter its online community services, CARU commenced a review of the company's Web site and its compliance to CARU's and the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) guidelines that mandate prior parental permission before site operators can collect personally identifiable information from children under 13-years-old, said Phyllis Spaeth, senior staff attorney for CARU.

CARU officials found that AltaVista's site failed to comply with CARU and COPPA guidelines. They found that the use of registration language on the AltaVista site encouraged children under 13-year-old to misstate their ages. They also learned that AltaVista failed to adequately prevent children from accessing chat rooms with "adult only" content, Spaeth said.