Microsoft is to shut down its free MSN chatrooms because it is concerned about child safety and spam.

The company is closing chatroom services in 28 countries, including Europe, the Middle East and Asia, from October 14. It cites a rise in spam and offensive posts as cause for its decision.

In an attempt to make these environments more secure, the company is making its US chatroom service available to paid subscribers only. A Microsoft spokeswoman said: "Anybody will be able to view the chat rooms, but you must have a subscription to MSN (Microsoft Network) to participate,"

"As a responsible leader we feel it necessary to make these changes because online chat services are increasingly being misused," Microsoft told the BBC.

The company also told the BBC it had seen cases in which minors have been approached in the chatrooms by adults pretending to be the same age attempting to set up meetings for "abusive contact".

Microsoft believes the changes were required to protect customers, who were being inundated with inappropriate material and spam. "Basically, it was an effort to provide a more safe and secure online experience," the spokeswoman said.