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U.K. cracks down on watching porn in Starbucks

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The U.K. has unveiled a new Wi-Fi system that blocks hardcore porn in all public areas. It’s being touted as “the world’s first public Wi-Fi accreditation scheme.”

Thanks to a measure requiring all Internet users to “opt out” with their providers to access hardcore porn online, it's already difficult to access porn in the privacy of one's own home in the U.K. According to the Mirror, now stores, cafes, and supermarkets in the U.K. are putting up “Friendly Wi-Fi” signs to assure customers that they’ve implemented the filters, and that their children won’t stumble on any naughty content. So far, Starbucks, the British supermarket chain Tesco, and Samsung have already signed up for the program.

“The ‘Friendly WiFi’ logo will make clear to parents which cafes, restaurants and other businesses have internet access that is safe for their children to use,” Communications Minister Ed Vaizey told the Mirror. “It will help these firms ensure that families feel comfortable and make it clear to parents they are choosing a safe online environment.”

The idea for the “Friendly Wi-Fi” program, which is believed to be the first public Wi-Fi filtering program of this scale in the world, took root when Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) on online safety. In his speech, he advocated for businesses to advertise in their windows that their public Wi-FI system was safe for children to access.

Now, Friendly Wi-Fi members will filter websites based on a blacklist authored by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a nonprofit organization that tracks down “potentially criminal” online content, particularly content that might depict child abuse.

In theory, the “Friendly Wi-Fi” program kind of seems like a no-brainer. Unless you’re a journalist who covers adult topics and occasionally works in coffee shops (i.e., unless you’re me), it’s almost never a good idea to access porn in a public venue, and it probably shouldn’t be easy for people to do so. And apparently, it is easy to access porn on existing public Wi-Fi networks: According to a 2013 Mirror investigation, nearly a quarter of public networks in the U.K. allow people to access adult content.

But free speech activists are objecting to the program, on the grounds that the measure constitutes online censorship. There seems to be some concern that, much like the mandatory British Internet service provider filters, which were revealed to have blocked one-fifth of the world’s 100,000 most popular websites, the Friendly Wi-Fi program will be so restrictive as to block not just porn but also any other content the U.K. government doesn’t want you to see.

But let’s put the potential free speech/censorship issues posed by the filters aside for a second and concentrate on what enterprising young British lads and ladies are supposed to do now. If they can’t masturbate to online porn in their homes, and they can’t do it in Starbucks bathrooms, where are they supposed to masturbate, and what are they supposed to masturbate to? Wallpaper?

H/T The Mirror | Photo by dbrekke/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)