Some fast-food chains such as McDonald's and Starbucks have announced that they will install blocking-technology on their wireless internet. Photo/Pexels

Some fast-food chains now blocking customers' internet access to porn

By  Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service
  • July 31, 2016

WASHINGTON – When the U.S. bishops urged a national policy of net neutrality, they wanted to make sure that internet access was made equally available to all people.

A federal appeals court upheld that principle earlier this year, agreeing with the Federal Communications Commission's argument was that internet access was a utility and should be regulated as such because it offers a public good.

But what of private internet providers? How many are there?

There's no readily accurate estimate. But if you think of the number of restaurants and stores that offer free Wi-Fi to their customers, then you realize the number is a mighty big one.

What makes this a big deal?

Two of the United States' most ubiquitous restaurant chains, McDonald's and Starbucks, announced in mid-July they were installing filtering technology at its locations to block pornography and other sexually explicit material from being seen on customers' cellphones and laptops while there.

They join the ranks of two other nationwide eateries: Panera Bread and Chick-fil-A, the latter of which already earned a reputation by staying closed on Sundays since it was established in 1946, in accordance with the religious beliefs of its Southern Baptist founder, S. Truett Cathy.

Their numbers are considerable. McDonald's has 14,000 U.S. locations and Starbucks has 13,000, while Panera and Chick-fil-A have 2,000 each.

The effort to bring McDonald's and Starbucks on board was started two years ago by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, formerly known as Morality in Media, and Enough Is Enough, another anti-pornography group led by Donna Rice Hughes, who in 1988 was part of a scandal that tripped up Gary Hart's presidential bid in 1988 but now is a wife, stepmother and internet safety advocate.

Enough Is Enough launched a "Porn-Free Wi-Fi" campaign that garnered about 50,000 signatures and drew support from 75 other organizations, among them the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which issues an annual "Dirty Dozen" report of companies it considers the worst purveyors of porn; its prime target is currently Verizon for offering pornography options for its FiOS customers.

Among the other organizations signing on to the campaign were the Maryland Coalition Against Pornography, the National Children's Action Center, the Preventing Abuse Foundation, the Parents Television Council, the Utah Coalition Against Pornography and the Salvation Army.

Haley Halverson, a spokeswoman for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, told Catholic News Service in a July 29 telephone interview that their organization was a "major partner" with Enough Is Enough. "We were a formative partner, not just some organization that signed on," she said.

Dawn Hankins, the center's executive director, told CNN after the McDonald's-Starbucks agreement was reached: "Thanks in part to the internet, it is now beyond an individual's or a family's capacity to adequately protect against, or overcome the harmful influences of, pornography."

Hankins added, "This reality requires a public health approach to raise awareness about the harms of pornography, provide resources to those struggling with it and to offer effective prevention strategies."

"We will vigorously continue to encourage other businesses and venues such as hotels, airlines, shopping malls, and libraries to filter pornography and child abuse images on publicly available Wi-Fi in order to protect children and families," Hughes said in a statement issued after the agreement was reached.

Who's next? Not the American Library Association, which has been on record as saying filters that block porn also tend to block legitimate sites. "Education is more effective than filters," says a statement on the organization's website.

Still, what we're seeing here are major corporations who find it is in their corporate interest to keep pornography out of reach of their patrons.

Will we see next commercials touting this new stance? Not likely.

Is it possible these fast-fooderies will lose customers who want to stare at explicit sexual content while munching a sandwich or sipping a latte? Perhaps.

But it's their calculated guess that patrons like Little League coaches and families who "deserve a break today" will far outnumber those perturbed by what they can't access on their smartphone.

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