A pro-family group is launching a nationwide “porn-free WiFi” campaign targeting Starbucks and McDonald’s.
The group, Enough is Enough, is asking the two corporate giants to provide the same Internet filtering at their U.S. stores that they offer in the United Kingdom, protecting customers and especially children from online pornography.
“It’s voluntary. This is not a mandate. But they already, both these companies, are doing it in the UK,” Donna Rice Hughes, EIE president, told WND. “I actually pulled quotes from their websites in the UK basically promoting the fact that they’re giving parents peace of mind, and so the parents here deserve the same level of protection, not only in the UK but in the U.S, since these are both American-based companies.”
McDonald’s is also using family friendly Internet filters for its restaurants in Australia, Hughes said.
Hughes said her organization has assembled a coalition of 75 organizations and more than 46,500 petitions in support of the request. Among the organizations supporting the campaign are the American Family Association, the Salvation Army, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family’s Citizens Link, Concerned Women for America and the National Coalition on Sexual Exploitation and the National Children’s Advocacy Center.
National chains such as Starbucks and McDonald’s provide open, public WiFi networks free to their customers as a value-added service.
Some companies, such as Chick-Fil-A and Panera Bread, already use filters on their public WiFi to prevent customers from viewing porn while in their stores.
“We can partner with these companies that are essentially in the Internet business but they’re not making money off porn. They’re simply offering WiFi as a value-added service to their customers,” Hughes said. “It certainly does not help their business to have a sex offender or predator or just an adult looking at material on their premises that could potentially harm children or make other patrons uncomfortable. So it’s a win-win.”
The move toward porn-free public WiFi in the United Kingdom was backed by Prime Minister David Cameron, who urged businesses to add family friendly filters to public WiFi networks on a voluntary basis.
Hughes said Enough is Enough decided to target McDonald’s and Starbucks in the U.S. because they are widely recognizable brands known for a high level of corporate responsibility.
WND reached out to McDonald’s and Starbucks via phone and email Tuesday but did not immediately hear back.
Hughes said her organization initially contacted the two corporate giants nearly a year ago.
“So what we decided to do is contact them, privately, and we have worked with businesses for 20 years behind the scenes, and we applauded them for doing their WiFi filtering policies overseas, and Starbucks didn’t get back with me, so far no contact, so we decided to take this to the public to let them know, because for some things they need a little encouragement,” Hughes told WND.
EIE sent certified letters to the two companies in April 2014.
“I never heard from Starbucks. McDonalds we sent a letter on April 16 and I heard from them in the summer and I offered to help them, support them, because EIE is partnered with their back-end providers AT&T and Google,” Hughes said. “McDonald’s said they were looking into effective filtering measures but did not take us up on our supportive efforts.”
Hughes said there have already been many cases in which adults have been apprehended for viewing child pornography in violation of state laws while hooked to unfiltered, public WiFi networks at various businesses.
Hughes said child predators increasingly use public WiFi services to traffic child pornography and to solicit their young victims.
“It has happened plenty of times where a child predator was caught using the free WiFi at a restaurant or coffee shop to view child porn,” Hughes said. “They could also be soliciting children over the Internet. All of these things are felonies. So if they are on a public WiFi network they are literally flying under the radar of law enforcement, so this is a way for them to avoid detection.”
On Dec. 29, 2014, USA Today reported the arrest of a 59-year-old man, who is a registered sex offender, while he was trying to download child pornography using free WiFi at a Hillsboro, Oregon, Starbucks. The same man had been arrested in 2009 “for similar crimes,” the newspaper reported.
Hughes said her organization also helps parents to filter their home Internet networks, so when a business like McDonald’s gives free, open access to unfiltered Internet, a parent’s control over their child’s online viewing potentially gets undermined.
“We have spent years trying to get parents to use filters to protect their kids and it is a huge effort to try to get parents to use these parental-control tools, and now little Johnny can just hop on McDonald’s network and get around the parental controls,” she said.
Recent peer-reviewed research shows that the extreme nature of Internet pornography is having a destructive impact on the mental, emotional and sexual health of adolescents, including addictive and even criminal behavior, according to Dawn Hawkins, executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. The research also indicates that online pornography fuels the sexual exploitation of children, violence against women, sex trafficking, addiction and the breakdown of marriage.
McDonald’s new CEO, Steve Easterbrook, came from the UK, where he was the chief brand officer.
“He had a lot of different posts there. So I’m very hopeful he knows all about this and he’ll be able to move the ball forward quickly,” Hughes said.
Starbucks is holding its annual shareholders meeting Wednesday and Hughes hopes the issue will be addressed there.
The petitions, delivered before Starbucks’ annual meeting, were accompanied by a detailed follow-up letter to the companies’ respective CEOs and boards of directors stating in part that a safe, friendly Wi-Fi policy and effective filtering in U.S. stores will:
• Prevent children, teens and other patrons from being exposed to pornography and child pornography when using WiFi services;
• Prevent children and teens from easily bypassing filters and other parental control tools set up by their parents on their smart phones, tablets and laptops by logging onto open hotspots;
• Prevent sexual predators from accessing illegal child pornography and flying under the radar of law enforcement by using public WiFi services;
• Avoid a potential hostile work environment for restaurant/cafe employees;
• Reinforce a hard-earned and well-deserved family friendly corporate brand;
• Establish McDonald’s and Starbucks as leaders of WiFi safety policies and effective filtering in the U.S. as in the UK; and
• Maintain consistency regarding corporate best practices and family friendly policies.
“You never know what’s going to make the company turn and do the right thing. These people who run these companies, they’re parents and grandparents too,” Hughes said. “It’s not about censorship. Child pornography is illegal and these companies have every right to develop their own best practices and maintain a safe environment for their patrons. So it’s not censorship. Censorship would go back way further in the Internet.”
Censorship of another kind
Hughes said she encountered some censorship of another kind while trying to get a press release emailed out through the third-party news service PR Web.
PR Web told Hughes it could not send out the press release unless the names of Starbucks and McDonald’s were removed. PR Webb wrote the following email to Hughes:
“Your press release appears to be intended to exact personal revenge or harm a person or group. Please revise your release to remove potentially harmful material. Visit PRWeb’s legal guidelines at http://www.prweb.com/pr/legal.html for more information.
“Please refrain from mentioning McDonalds and Starbucks in this release. Instead, replace these names with a more generic title like fast food restaurants and coffee shops. You may not use a press release to attempt to publicly shame an entity into changing its policies.”
PR Web also instructed Hughes to remove any reference to the arrest at the Oregon Starbucks.
“We weren’t shaming them, we were applauding them and encouraging them to do the same thing here in the United States as they are doing in the UK because they are based here in the United States,” Hughes said. “How ironic ….we are trying to get these companies to exercise good corporate citizenship and filter content that is not protected by the First Amendment (child porn and obscenity) and an online PR/News group censors our very polite press release?”
McDonald’s and Starbucks combined operate more than 25,000 retail outlets in the U.S.
“I feel like this is something that many individuals and groups, if they knew about it, would join our efforts,” Hughes said. “I think they’re going to move the ball forward and they need to move sooner rather than later.”
Those who wish to sign the online petitions may do so at friendlywifi.org.