McDonalds WiFi

NZPA report:

McDonald’s will make a decision today about its internet filtering system after complaints of gay websites being blocked through the restaurants’ new free Wi-Fi service.

People trying to access the lifestyle website discovered they could not find the site, among others, and the website challenged the fast-food giant – which offers free WiFi access in 132 of its restaurants nationwide – to review its access policy.

Rainbow Youth, a support website for gay young people, is also one of the blocked sites.

“Obviously there is a flaw in their approach, websites like Rainbow Youth are not of any danger to young people, it is for young people to make informed decisions for themselves and the culture they are involved in,” executive director Todd Hamilton told Radio New Zealand.

There appeared to be no consistency in the company’s policy, said.

A NZ Aids Foundation site was not blocked but Family Planning, Rainbow Youth, Agender and others were.

McDonald’s said it was a family restaurant chain, and as part of offering the Wi-Fi service, its policy was that content must be of a family friendly nature, or suitable for a child to view.

McDonald’s managing director Mark Hawthorn said standard filtering software was used and there was no discrimination against any communities.

“There are millions and millions of websites from around the world and some sites with the word gay have got through and some haven’t which shows it’s nothing to do with the gay community,” he said.

I can comment on this issue a bit as I have actually used the McDonalds service, and also know a bit about filtering.

First of all, I have to say I appreciate the free service. When I was staying in Waikanae the mobile service was GPRS only (ie crap) so I would go most days to Coastlands in Paraparaumu to find some wifi. Telecom had a hotspot there but they no longer provide free access to it, as part of your existing Xtra account.

So would have been paying a massive amount if it were not for the fact the McDs there had their free wifi. Used it most days, and it was quick and reliable. Did not personally noticce any blocked sites.

It is no surprise they have a filter running on it. If you are providing public access in a public place, you generally do. Just like Air NZ does in Koru Clubs.

Now filters are clumsy things. Almost every filter on the planet produces “false positives”, ie it blocks sites that shouldn’t be. This is because you don’t employ humans to check out 10 billion pages individually. A filter decides to block a site based on various criteria – may be keywords, may be domain name etc. The more sophisticated filters will use dozens of different factors.

So there is not some McDonalds manager sitting in an office somewhere saying “Hey I think I will block as I don’t think it is appropriate.

What you will have is the ability of an IT manager to over-ride the default decision of the filter. They can manually whitelist or blacklist certain sites if asked to.

So all the people had to do is ask McDonalds for a manual review. Personally I think they should allow to be seen (I read the site often, as it has many good news stories), but the fact it has been blocked in not some anti-gay conspiracy.

The Press has done an ill-informed editorial on this issue:

McDonald’s has erred badly in its definition of what is “family friendly”. Had the company confined itself to blocking pornographic sites, regardless of the sexual orientation of the content, this would have been acceptable, as such material would be offensive to many patrons and should not be viewed where children are nearby. There might just also be grounds for blocking gambling and tobacco websites, as McDonald’s has done, on the basis that they are not “family friendly”.

But the company has gone too far by blocking websites such as GayNZ, Rainbow Youth and Agender, which are aimed at and provide support for gays or transgender people. Banning these websites can only have the effect of marginalising the gay community when, ironically, this is something which these sites are attempting to overcome.

Again, McDonalds has not made a conscious decision to block these sites. The filtering software used has blocked them. And yes there is a difference. There is no proof that any sites have been blocked just because they talk about gay issues.

Why McDonald’s made its censorship decisions is unclear.

That is because they did not make a censorship decision. They just used a filter which is over-reaching (as many filters are).

Sometimes the filters used by Air NZ block Kiwiblog. I don’t accuse them of deciding to censor Kiwiblog, or discriminating against short people. I just figure their filtering software doesn’t always like some of my language.

The contrast can be made with McDonald’s in France, which last year ran an advertisement with a gay theme to encourage patronage from the gay community.

McDonald’s in New Zealand, however, chose to impose the sort of judgmental morality prevalent among many conservative Americans. This should have no place in this nation and the company must review its internet policy.

Oh how pompous. Now McDonalds NZ are part of the US religious right. Please.

Two far more sensible post on the issue come from Phil Quin and Chaz Harris. They botth happen, incidentially, to be gay.

First Chaz:

It may surprise you to hear that I don’t think McDonald’s did anything wrong in its censorship of certain websites with sexuality-related content. …

A Stuff article yesterday said members of the gay community had been “outraged” by the decision to block some websites featuring LGBT-related content. But more vital information such as sexual health and a website for gay youth was readily available through McDonald’s free wi-fi service. Some of the blocked websites contain links to explicit or sexually provocative material and the reasons for some being blocked are perhaps a little more confusing. might contain a lot of valuable and innocent content on the site, but the advertisements on the web pages are more explicit than the content and feature links to gay saunas and some even have pictures of half-naked men. Personally, I consider reading the website “not suitable for work” and when I want to read it I wait until I’m at home. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that McDonald’s would think the same way when there are ads on their site that read things like “Nude/nearly nude super safe sex Sunday afternoons”.

A fair point

I’m all for calling people or companies out when they have seriously and unfairly excluded or discriminated against people for their sexuality or something else, but this feels like a case of Air NZ/Kahui deja vu. They haven’t only put this block in place for gay websites and nothing else, it’s all adult/mature content. First it was Air New Zealand’s turn, now McDonald’s – who’s going to be next, Starbucks? You know that mermaid in the new Starbucks logo is female, right? Well, I think that is just SO sexist, let’s start a protest! *please note the thick layers of sarcasm*

I agree with Chaz that people are being too precious.

And now Phil Quin:

It’s a known fact that only vegans and North Koreans eat less McDonald’s than gay people.  Indeed, I have long taken it for granted that if I was found eating a Big Mac, I would lose my license to practice as a homosexual. I may not have forfeited my right to happiness as a gay man, but I sure gave up my right to Happy Meals.

Heh. He notes:

  • Web filters are notoriously hit and miss.
  • They are not inherently judgmental about alternative lifestyles.
  • There may be the odd person who wants to access non-sexual gay news and information websites while eating a Quarter-pounder, but there are almost certainly more people who have other motives including, I imagine, bullying and teasing — given the customer-base we are talking about.
  • I imagine the words “penis” and “vagina” are also blocked, but this does not make McDonald’s anti-genitalia.

Quin asks:

Yet again, I find myself stunned by the propensity of people to fabricate umbrage in the pursuit of media profile.  Is Julz the “Wellington lesbian” really, really upset about this, or is she playing the part of aggrieved victim for the camera?  Ditto the guy? I seriously suspect that this is bullshit from start to finish.

As I said, I think their filter probably is over-reaching with the sites it blocks. But all one needs is for McDonalds to have a process where people can ask for a site to be manually reviewed for whitelisting in the filter. No need to turn it into a media issue.

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