McDonald's Wi-Fi blocks spark anger

03:42, Jan 10 2011

McDonald's is facing the anger of the gay community after denying access to gay-related websites on a new free Wi-Fi service at its restaurants.

The service, installed in branches nationwide in December, saw McDonald's claim it was now the largest free internet provider in New Zealand.

But limited access to gay and lesbian-related sites, such as GayNZ, Rainbow Youth and Agender, has sparked anger from a community who feel McDonald's are imposing a "censorship of gay-themed sites".

GayNZ is a news and information site for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. It was a finalist in the "investigative journalism" section of the Qantas Media Awards last year, and was ranked the most popular Lifestyle-Gay and Lesbian site by Hitwise in its most recent survey.

However, McDonald's said the sites were blocked because the service had to be family friendly, meaning no access to sexually explicit content and images.

GayNZ today reported complaints pouring in from people unable to access certain sites, including the NZ Aids foundation site, Bro Online and the Family Planning web page.

It quoted Wellingtonian Julz Darroch as saying the blocks "shocked" her.

"Just when we think we can get used to being treated as equals in society, and in the main centres at least, something like this comes along," Darroch said.

"Our being lesbian or gay, or wanting to be in contact with our friends and communities, should not be an issue for the likes of McDonald's."

A check revealed a number of other gay-related sites such as graygay.com, lesbian.co.nz and daily.gay.com did not work.

However, Avert.org, a site for young gay people, and a number of sites with articles containing sex advice could be accessed.

A Wikipedia article on the Karma Sutra could not, and neither did the men's magazine site Askmen.com.

A McDonald's New Zealand spokesperson said because the restaurants were for families, the Wi-Fi policy was that viewed content must be suitable for children to view.

Access to a number of websites was blocked, including access to gaynz.com, gambling, tobacco and adult mature content websites.

"We stress that all the content of allowable sites must meet family friendly criteria," the spokesperson said.

"By this we mean a child cannot access a website where they can click on any content, link or third party advertisement and access sexually explicit content and images."

However, she said the service was new and it was happy to review access to sites such as GayNZ and NZ Aids on a case-by-case basis, "if our customers believe that sites have been unjustifiably blocked".

"You will ...  appreciate that there are inevitably teething problems with the introduction of a new service and getting our filtering process right is one such issue."

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