London, 12 December 2013 – An investigation led by mobile security leader AdaptiveMobile has found that users trying to access harmless websites through free Wi-Fi hotspots, including sex education and religious sites, found the content blocked. AdaptiveMobile examined Wi-Fi filtering measures across the UK and found that 34% of hotspots blocked sex education websites, such as Respect Yourself. A further 44% prevented viewing of religious sites such as Ikhwan Web.  

“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 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.” 

Mystery shoppers in London, Manchester and Birmingham attempted to access a range of websites in hotspots in public spaces, cafes, restaurants, retail sites and hotels. Over-blocking was worst in public spaces, with two thirds (66%) blocking video streaming sites and nearly a third (30%) filtering sex education sites. Retail sites also over-filtered, with 42% blocking access to video streaming sites.

“Having public Wi-Fi filters is just as important in protecting young people as restrictions such as modesty covers on adult magazines,” says Andy Phippen, Professor of Social Responsibility in IT, Plymouth Business School. “But these results show that filtering solutions are not all equally effective. Filters need to protect users from inappropriate content without restricting them from accessing harmless content that they have every right to view.”

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. 34% 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 60% 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,” concludes Coffey. “We should apply the same rules to online as we do in real life. With filters becoming increasingly sophisticated and flexible this is now possible. Public outlets across the UK should review their Wi-Fi services and ensure they are fit for purpose.”

About AdaptiveMobile:
AdaptiveMobile is the world leader in mobile security, enabling trusted networks for the world’s largest operator groups and protecting one in six subscribers globally, including over half of all smartphone subscribers in the United States. AdaptiveMobile provides Operators with the most comprehensive network-based security solutions enabling them to protect their consumer and enterprise customers against the growing threat of mobile abuse. / @AdaptiveMobile /#GSIMIX

Notes to Editor
Research was carried out during September 2013 across 179 locations in Birmingham, Manchester and London in the UK. Research staff visited cafes, restaurants, retail outlets, hotels and public spaces and attempted to log onto sex education, religious, video streaming and ‘hidden word’ websites. The websites were scored using an accessibility matrix created in partnership with Andy Phippen, Professor at the University of Plymouth recording any measures preventing staff from logging onto websites, including the need for personal details, credit card numbers or branded warnings from the café, hotel etc. All research staff were over 18 at the time of the research and consented to be part of the project. The full report can be found here. Further data summaries are available upon request.

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