Opinion

Porn-free Wi-Fi: Push to get Starbucks & McDonald’s to filter more than just coffee is gaining steam

There is no doubt that the Internet has revolutionized our lives for the better. Digital technologies are evolving daily with new innovations, cool tools, toys and devices. Being connected is a way of life for most everyone over the age of 10. Older youth don’t even differentiate between their online lives and their offline lives.

Since the development of the first scalable communications vehicle, the printing press, evil doers have found a way to exploit otherwise beneficial technologies and innovations. The Internet is no exception. Due to its power to reach millions of people with a touch screen or mouse click, the damage done by those that exploit the Internet is exponential.

Unfortunately, sexual predators and pornographers were the early adaptors of the Internet, even prior to the World Wide Web. They used bulletin board services and newsgroups to communicate, share trade secrets about molesting children, and trade and sell child pornography and prosecutable obscenity.

starbucksProtecting children on the Internet continues to be a daunting challenge, one that has been my passion and life’s work since 1994. Unfortunately, children with unrestricted Internet access can freely view a la carte porn of every type…. from softer material to vile depraved images of bestiality, anal sex and child pornography. Additionally, sexual predators have easy and anonymous access to children online.

While there is no silver bullet, there must be a shared responsibility between government, law enforcement, corporate America and individuals, particularly parents and educators.

With the advent of Wi-Fi, most anyone with a smart phone can hop onto a free public Wi-Fi service in many public places. This makes connecting wirelessly simple, convenient and a wonderful value-added service for restaurants, shopping malls, hotel lobbies and other businesses to offer their patrons.

Unfiltered Wi-Fi networks, can lead to the unintended consequences of access to hard-core pornography, child pornography and possibly child exploitation, and sexual predation. Recent peer-reviewed research shows that the extreme nature of Internet pornography is having a destructive impact on the mental, emotional and sexual health of adolescents, including addictive and even criminal behavior. The research also reveals that online pornography fuels the sexual exploitation of children, violence against women, sex trafficking, addiction and the breakdown of marriage. Additionally, public Wi-Fi services are increasingly being used to traffic child pornography and the sexual solicitation of children. Sex offenders and predators can fly under the radar of law enforcement detection by logging onto public Wi-Fi service.

Due to the overwhelming success in the United Kingdom, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, of an industry-wide, self-regulation default-filtering scheme by Internet providers to filter child pornography and pornography, we launched the National Porn Free WiFi Campaign. The goal being a safer Wi-Fi experience for youth while using public Wi-Fi in popular hangouts for children and teens.

Starbucks and McDonald’s quickly rose as market leaders in the U.K., being the country’s first major retailers to voluntarily filter child pornography and pornography on their Wi-Fi services. As industry leaders who set standards for other companies, each American-based company has a unique opportunity to lead corporate America to be part of the solution by offering safe “porn-free” Wi-Fi environments and to take a stand against Internet pornography that is damaging children.

It’s time Starbucks and McDonald’s filter their public Wi-Fi services and not just their coffee.  Filtering Internet content at restaurants’ Wi-Fi services is not unprecedented in the United States. Companies such as Chick-fil-A and Panera Bread have been voluntarily filtering pornography, child pornography and other inappropriate content on their Wi-Fi networks for years. It’s not about censorship; it’s about corporate responsibility and good corporate citizenship –and most importantly, about safety for all patrons.

In April 2014, I sent a certified letter to both McDonald’s and Starbucks CEOs  applauding their efforts in the U.K. and encouraging action in the U.S. So far, we have yet to hear from Starbucks. McDonald’s responded last summer, thanking me, saying that “they were looking into effective filtering in the U.S.”  Since there has been no action since that time, we stepped up the pressure and launched a petition urging these corporate leaders to offer American children the same level of protection as they do for children overseas.

mcdonaldswifi0319At the beginning of this week, we delivered over 46,500 petition signatures to the CEOs of Starbucks and McDonald’s, urging them to filter both child pornography and pornography on their public Wi-Fi services. A total of 75 partnering organizations representing millions of Americans have also joined our efforts.

Accompanying the petitions, which were delivered to each company’s headquarters on Monday, was a detailed letter outlining the benefits of a safe, friendly Wi-Fi policy. Filtering both child pornography and pornography on Starbucks and McDonald’s Wi-Fi services will:

  • Prevent children, teens and other patrons from being exposed to pornography and child pornography when using Wi-Fi services;
  • Prevent children and teens from easily bypassing filters and other parental control tools set up by their parents on their smart phones, tablets and laptops by logging onto open hot spots;
  • Prevent sexual predators from accessing illegal child pornography and flying under the radar of law enforcement by using public Wi-Fi services;
  • Avoid a potential hostile work environment for restaurant/cafe employees;
  • Reinforce a hard-earned and well deserved family-friendly corporate brand;
  • Establish McDonald’s and Starbucks as leaders of Wi-Fi safety policies and effective filtering in the U.S. as in the UK; and
  • Maintain consistency regarding corporate best practices and family-friendly policies.

This strategy is a win-win for the companies’ respective brands and will provide peace of mind and safety for their patrons, especially children. We are hopeful that as public awareness of this issue grows, that corporations who offer free Wi-Fi as a value-added service for their customers will jump on the “friendly Wi-Fi” bandwagon.

Join the “Porn Free Wi-Fi” movement www.friendlywifi.org, or via Twitter using the following hashtags: #pornfreewifi; #friendlywifi.

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Donna Rice Hughes

Donna Rice Hughes is president and CEO of Enough Is Enough and an internationally known Internet safety expert, author, speaker and film producer.

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