Starbucks – ‘would you like some porn with your coffee, sir?’

Until recently, Wi-Fi access, provided by BT, has been available in every Starbucks coffee shop in UK, with no restrictions on their Wi-Fi connection. This meant that the company was providing access to every kind of website, including those displaying hard core pornography.

Following protests by UK children’s organizations and a speech by Baroness Massey in the House of Lords in November, 2012, Starbucks and BT announced their intention to move swiftly to introduce controls to block access to online porn via the jointly provided Wi-Fi service. They kept their promise. Starbucks UK is now a porn free zone. But it’s a different story elsewhere.

Young Woman wearing School Uniform

Co-ordinating a network of online safety experts around the world John Carr, Secretary of the UK’s Coalition of Children’s Charities for Internet Safety, initiated an investigation into how Starbucks presented Wi-Fi in 25 out of over 50 different countries where Starbucks has a presence.

In every European nation in which a test was carried out – 14 in total – hard core porn sites are still accessible in Starbucks via Wi-Fi. In over a third of these BT is the Wi-Fi provider.

Outside of Europe tests were carried out in a further 11 countries.

In Australia, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, India, Japan, New Zealand and the USA the position is exactly the same as it is in the European countries tested. In each case Starbucks uses a local Wi-Fi provider.
In Oman, South Korea and Thailand porn sites were inaccessible in Starbucks via Wi-Fi because of a wider legal ban in those countries on such sites.

Yvonne Dufaur, Chair of ECPAT Child ALERT said: “After all the debates about the hazards associated with the early sexualisation of children you would think this is a no brainer. Starbucks is not a nightclub or a casino. It’s a coffee bar. A public space. Anyone can go in. Children and young people are often found in Starbucks either on their own or with their parents. No self-respecting business should provide access to porn in environments like that. This is not about free speech, it’s about common decency and a time and a place.”

“What’s good for British kids is good for children everywhere but instead what we see is Starbucks blocking porn only where it comes under public pressure to do so, as in the UK, or in other jurisdictions where it is a legal requirement. Hardly the most elevated ethical stance.”

“When Starbucks and BT decided to block access to porn in their shops in the UK they made the right decision. However, I was astonished to learn they did not immediately conclude they should do the same thing everywhere else. Children all over the world should be protected from exposure to that kind of material. Starbucks is effectively a public space. The company should put this right and in very short order. Perhaps someone from either Starbucks or BT would care to explain why their consciences seem to be limited by geography?”