As we reported on Monday, Au Bon Pain’s public wi-fi was blocking access to sites that addressed abortion, sexual orientation, and gay rights news and advocacy.
Following a storm of tweets directed at Au Bon Pain, media caught wind of the story and promptly reported on it (see: DNAinfo, CBS, New York Magazine, Think Progress). In response to mounting public pressure, Au Bon Pain changed its filtering and issued the following statement:
Yesterday, Au Bon Pain became aware of an issue some customers had accessing specific websites at some of our cafes, and we apologize. We use a Wi-Fi service provider that uses a common filtering service intended to block inappropriate websites. As soon as we learned that the filtering service blocked websites it should not have blocked, we worked with them to resolve this matter immediately. We are now working closely with our Wi-Fi provider to establish the correct parameters for internet usage and make sure no issues of the sort arise in the future.
It goes without saying that I’m pleased; the sandwich chain acknowledged and responded to our concerns in a timely, professional manner.
But, this experience has left me wondering how many other public wi-fi networks are blocking this type of content, with or without establishments’ knowledge? It sends an unacceptable — and inaccurate — message that information on women’s reproductive healthcare and rights, and sexual orientation is offensive.
We’ve received several comments telling us to “calm down,” that public wi-fi is complimentary (as if we somehow didn’t grasp this concept) and so we ought not to complain, and that it’s a business’ right to decide which filters it sets in place. But when large swaths of websites addressing specific issues — and by extension, the populations trying to access them — are restricted, it’s discriminatory, whether intended or not. And last I checked, that’s not okay. Every person has the right to access information without judgment or interference, even if that information is offered “for free.”
Thanks to everyone who tweeted, posted to Facebook, shared our blog and helped ring the alarm. Your support is appreciated and reinforces what I’ve always believed: collectively, we can affect change. Rock on.