Parents’ anger at WHSmith's online bungle
PARENTS are horrified that children have been put at risk of viewing inappropriate material on retail giant WHSmith’s website.
A search engine bungle saw dozens of pornographic titles advertised alongside children’s books, leading the family-friendly stationers, whose headquarters are on Greenbridge Road, to shut down its website at the weekend.
More than 60 titles featuring erotic fictional accounts from the BDSM genre, such as sadomasochism, bondage, ageplay and animal play, were advertised alongside children’s books when customers entered the search term ‘daddy’ on the website.
Mum-of-two Geraldine Spearing, 32, from Eldene, said: “It’s very scary to think that children can go online and find these things just by searching for ‘daddy’. You shouldn’t be able to do that.
“You try to protect your children and you can put all sorts of security features on your computer but I’m not sure that will apply on the WHSmith website.
“It would make me think twice about letting my children go on the internet, but these days even children as young as primary school age are using the internet in school. I’m not sure its security would screen out things like that on the WHSmith website.”
The titles appeared through Kobo.com, a website specialising in e-books, which has an automated feed to the WHSmith website.
Many of the e-books on Kobo are self-published, giving the opportunity for new authors to develop a wider audience.
The stationers has apologised to customers and the website will remain shut down until the offensive titles have been removed.
The retailer said: “We are disgusted by these particular titles, find this unacceptable and we in no way whatsoever condone them.
“It is our policy not to feature titles like those highlighted and we have processes in place to screen them out.
“We offer over one million titles through our eBooks partner Kobo, many of which are self-published titles. Due to the massive amount of self-publishing a number of these titles have got through the screening process.
“We are taking immediate steps to have them all removed. While we are doing this we have decided to take our website off-line to best protect our customers.”
The problem is an industry-wide hazard and has affected other online retailers such as Amazon and Waterstones due to the explosion in self-publishing, which has seen many fringe genre titles being made available to large audiences.
The issue is the latest in the debate on how to keep children safe from viewing age inappropriate material on the internet.
Robert Buckland, MP for South Swindon, said: “I am deeply concerned that pornographic books have been advertised on a number of websites in this way.
“Clearly there is a problem with the way this type of material being registered with internet retailers.
“If this was a real shop, then material of this nature would not be stocked.
“Parents will be shocked that this has been allowed to happen.”
If a judge was to rule e-books of that type breached the Obscene Publications Act, WHSmith and other retailers could be liable for prosecution.
WHSmith began selling ebooks through partner Kobo – for a proportion of any profits – last year.
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