By Samantha Hayes
McDonald’s has been labelled homophobic, for blocking gay websites from its new free Wi-Fi service.
Members of GayNZ.com noticed they were being denied access to the gay news site a few days ago, and have since found others – like Family Planning – are also being filtered out.
McDonald’s says it’s just trying to ensure its restaurants remain family friendly, but in other parts of the world they’re using gay themes themselves in advertising.
The fast food restaurant launched free Wi-Fi in December in 132 restaurants, claiming to offer the largest free internet service in the country.
But that service is censored and Wellington lesbian Julz Darroch was surprised the new site GayNZ.com was blocked. She is disappointed in what she called McDonald’s “homophobic” actions.
The site’s content editor Jay Bennie was also surprised it had been blocked.
“If someone is jumping to knee-jerk reaction that gay is just about sex, lesbian is just about sex, transgender is just about sex, then they’re showing their ignorance and foisting their ignorance on the general public,” he says.
3 News checked restaurants in Auckland and Wellington and found that as well as GayNZ.co.nz, McDonald’s had blocked rainbowyouth.org.nz – which supports young people questioning their sexual and gender identity – dating site nzdating.com and Family Planning’s website familyplanning.org.nz.
Similar sites with gay themes, however, were still accessible such as gay dating site broonline.com, news website aaronandandy.com and Big Gay Out festival sponsors getiton.co.nz.
The New Zealand Aids Foundation website was also still accessible.
Other large free Wi-Fi providers like the Auckland Public Library and Wellington Airport allow access to all those sites, but McDonald’s says it’s a family chain and is using the software filter Bluecoat to decide which sites to block.
“We do have a responsibility to make sure any information available on our system is child friendly and we will go a long way to protect that,” says managing director Mark Hawthorn.
McDonald’s admits there are a few teething problems and has agreed to review websites on a case by case basis.
“Filters work by blocking a website that the administrator chooses, so essentially all companies and service providers can choose which go on the blocked list and which don’t,” says NetSafe research manager John Fenaughty.
In an apparent about-face, last year McDonald’s used a gay-themed ad in France.
The differing attitude in New Zealand is somewhat surprising and websites say they’ll fight it.
Rainbow Youth says in no way would it be inappropriate for a young person to access its website in a McDonald’s restaurant. It will be approaching the company to be unblocked, as will GayNZ.com
McDonald’s says it will review the sites on a case-by-case basis, but all links and advertisements must also be acceptable.