Café chain Au Bon Pain apologizes for its network filter blocking LGBT websites


The café bakery chain Au Bon Pain posted apologies on multiple social media sites January 15 regarding its Wi-Fi settings having blocked LGBT and pro-choice websites.

To the chagrin of many customers, attempting to access certain sites while on Au Bon Pain networks resulted in discovering the sites were blocked. One report from a location in Manhattan said that trying to load GLAAD’s website resulted in the message “This website is not allowed. This website is categorized as Sexual Orientation and is blocked as part of this network’s web content filtering policy.”

News site EDGE Boston reported that Au Bon Pain had not responded to reader Stephen Kyle’s complaint even a week later, but sherights founder Maureen Shaw did receive a response when she contacted the chain on Twitter—and also spread the word about the filter to multiple other sites on January 13. Shaw had discovered that her site, which focuses on women’s rights issues such as breastfeeding, was blocked by the network’s filter for being “pornography.”

The response on Twitter reads,

They also posted two longer apologies with an explanation on Tumblr.

The second of the statements reads in part,

Au Bon Pain offers café guests free Wi-Fi, provided by a Wi-Fi service company we contract. As a standard practice, the Wi-Fi company uses third-party filter software intended to ensure the comfort and safety of our guests by keeping truly objectionable content inaccessible.

Au Bon Pain did not intend to block reputable sites regarding any LGBT issues, family planning, or any other topics or communities to our guests using Wi-Fi in our cafés. We were unaware the filtering software our Wi-Fi provider uses would block any such sites. When Au Bon Pain learned yesterday these sites were blocked, we immediately contacted our Wi-Fi provider, who disabled the filter so the sites would not be blocked.

The café told DNAinfo New York, “We’re just the innocent bystanders. Symantec changed its parameters and didn’t communicate it to their customers.”

If true, it’s reminiscent of a problem the entire United Kingdom may soon face. By order of Prime Minister David Cameron, all internet providers and search engines will in the future be required to have features that allow “adult content” to be blocked. Unlike the filters in some countries, users will be able to turn off their content blockers at will; however, under Cameron’s proposal, certain filters will be on by default.

Although most internet providers and many websites provide instructions on how to turn filters on and off, it doesn’t do end users much good if they don’t have the tech savvy to accomplish it—or worse, aren’t aware such filters are in place to begin with.

Either way, the potential impact is cause for concern. Shaw told DNAinfo, “It is now a larger question of whether or not other public Wi-Fi providers are enacting similar restrictions, either with or without establishments’ knowledge of it.”


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