Chief information officers across the U.S. have been issued with a serious warning on customer Wi-Fi, after surprising statistics emerged showing the vast wave of unsuitable content that is growing on their networks.
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Over three quarters of Wi-Fi hotspots in American cafes, hotels, restaurants and shops allow access to pornographic and extremist content or gambling and sex hook up sites, without any controls to limit what customers access. This means that not only are they failing to protect customers, but their positive brand image may be seriously threatened.
Many brands, according to the research by security firm AdaptiveMobile, are learning the hard way that simple controls are not usually built into Wi-Fi services they are offering in their outlets.
Professor Andy Phippen, an expert in social responsibility and IT at the U.K.’s Plymouth Business School, tells Forbes that there is a “real threat” to brand when companies fail to block offensive content for their customers. He adds: “A lot of companies bring in a WiFi service and simply don’t realize that it’s not filtered.”
The research lists some alarming statistics, most notably at cafes which are often frequented by young people after school, where researchers were able to access all of the different categories of potentially offensive content in the majority of locations. Additionally, only a quarter of restaurants and a fifth of hotels attempt to block offensive content.
Store chains had the most consistent approach to blocking offensive content, at least where pornography is concerned, with 40 per cent blocking it, however researchers still found it easy to access extremist and other hate content.
Blocking can also create a problem, however, with the wrong sorts of site being restricted. Similar research by AdaptiveMobile in the U.K. found that 34 per cent of public Wi-Fi hotspots block sex education websites, often because they are simply catching the keyword “sex”, needed to block the potentially inappropriate sites. Two thirds of public Wi-Fi hotspots in the U.K. also block video streaming sites as a whole.
Additionally, regular names or words that contain smaller offensive words, such as the British town name Scunthorpe, often lead to sites being incorrectly banned. Phippen says that while Wi-Fi blocks are very important, filters “need to protect users from inappropriate content without restricting them from accessing harmless content they have every right to view”.
Policy – Room For Improvement
Government policy can play a key role in helping prevent this public Wifi problem, but it must be dramatically improved, Phippen notes: “Policy often focuses on getting the internet service providers to block offensive content, but that’s a lazy approach and only part of the issue.”
He adds: “There’s a greater picture in teaching people how to put in place proper filtering, and in widening the discussion on content so that children are also protected by better sex education curricula, for example.”
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