Many people trying to access harmless websites through free WiFi hotspots – including sex education and religious sites – are finding the content blocked due to over-zealous child-protection filters, according to a new report.
Research carried out by AdaptiveMobile during September 2013 across 179 locations in Birmingham, Manchester and London found that 34pc of hotspots blocked sex education websites, such as Respect Yourself, and a further 44pc prevented viewing of religious sites such as Ikhwan Web.
Over-blocking was found to be worst in public spaces, with two thirds (66pc) blocking video streaming sites and nearly a third (30 per cent) filtering sex education sites. Retail sites also over-filtered, with 42pc blocking access to video streaming sites.
“While it’s encouraging that businesses have filters in place to protect users from inappropriate content, these results show a heavy-handed approach to filtering,” says Graeme Coffey, vice president pf product strategy and business development at AdaptiveMobile.
“Businesses offering free Wi-Fi are providing a service and if it’s ineffective it could damage their reputation and make customers go elsewhere.”
The investigation also uncovered the ‘hidden word problem’ where web addresses were blocked by filters because the text contains a sequence of letters shared with an obscene word. Over a third of sites including an inappropriate hidden word, such as the This is Scunthorpe site, were prohibited.
Hotspots in public spaces again filtered the most – blocking 60pc of sites. The research also found that it was much more common for locations to ask for personal details before allowing access to hidden word sites.
“These results show that a ‘one size fits all approach’ to Wi-Fi filtering clearly isn’t working,” said Coffey. “We should apply the same rules to online as we do in real life. Public outlets across the UK should review their Wi-Fi services and ensure they are fit for purpose.”