Free Wi-Fi, but at what cost?

An investigation into public Wi-Fi has found that 51% of free Wi-Fi hotspots in the UK allow access to content of an adult nature. AdaptiveMobile examined Wi-Fi filtering measures across the UK and found that one in three (30%) UK cafés and restaurants have no filtering in place to prevent children accessing pornography.

Mystery shoppers in London, Manchester and Birmingham attempted to access inappropriate content including pornography, drug- and violence-related websites. The investigation found that over half (53%) of cafés and restaurants do not have any restrictions in place to block online stores selling knives and swords and four out of five (80%) also granted full access to drug-related content.

“For every parent across the UK this report will come as an unwelcome surprise,” says Graeme Coffey, Vice President Product Strategy and Business Development at AdaptiveMobile. “In the last two years there have been two convergent trends: a big increase in public Wi-Fi or “hospitality Wi-Fi” and greater access to smartphones, gaming consoles and tablets with a Wi-Fi capability, the kind of device a child could have. Most people will instinctively block adult content when it comes to filtering, but what these results show is that we should also be looking at content related to drugs and violence which are just as harmful but frequently overlooked.”

The report examined filtering protocol across cafés, restaurants, hotels, retailers and public spaces. Hotels scored the worst out of the five categories, with three out of four (74%) not blocking pornography and only one in ten actively blocking online weapons shops.

The research was conducted in parallel with a US investigation, the results of which showed that the problem there is far more severe. Three out of four (72%) American cafés and restaurants have no restrictions on access to pornography; more than double than in the UK.

“Having filters in public spaces is just as important as other restrictions such as the smoking ban and modesty covers on adult magazines,” says Andy Phippen, Professor of Social Responsibility in IT, Plymouth Business School. “The fact that this protection isn’t available in a significant proportion of publically accessible sites will undoubtedly cause concern. However, we should also reflect on the effectiveness of some of those in place – simply having a filter doesn’t necessarily mean everything is protected. These results should encourage public outlets across the UK to review the Wi-Fi services that they have in place and ensure that they are fit for purpose and appropriate for their customers.”

Government-owned property and public spaces such as train stations have the strongest defences. A comparatively high nine in ten (91%) government sites restricted access to pornography. However, one in three government sites allowed granted full access to online weapons stores.

“Cafés, restaurants, hotels and administrators of public spaces should talk to their ISP and other bodies to understand the most appropriate filtering methods for their premises,” concludes Coffey. “Whilst hotels are predominantly private places, where a “no filtering’ policy may be appropriate, hotel lobbies, cafés and restaurants are more public and the content policy should reflect this. It is certainly neither a simple nor a “one size fits all’ matter, and the community should work together to understand the issues and put a suitable policy in place.”

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