Filtering out discrimination: Au Bon Pain ensures access to LGBT online resources

Yesterday, DNAInfo and first reported that cafe chain Au Bon Pain was using a web filtering software that blocked access to LGBT advocacy sites (including GLAAD's), as well as some pro-choice and progressive websites. It was noted, however, that the web filtering software did not block access to anti-LGBT, anti-choice sites like that of the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a 'hate group.'

Au Bon Pain almost immediately responded on Twitter, noting that the company was committed to fixing the issue:

Today, Au Bon Pain issued the following statement to GLAAD:

Yesterday, Au Bon Pain became aware of an issue some customers had accessing specific internet sites at some of our cafes, and we apologize. We use a wifi service provider that uses a common filtering service intended to block inappropriate websites. As soon as we learned that the filtering service blocked websites it should not have blocked, we worked with the wifi service provider to resolve this matter immediately. We are now working with our wifi service provider to establish the correct parameters for internet usage.

Au Bon Pain is right to acknowledge the discriminatory nature of this problem and took swift action to resolve it. Companies must take responsibility for and be held accountable to the software they use.

This story also points to a larger problem at hand, which is that web filtering services like Norton 'ConnectSafe' (the software Au Bon Pain uses) and others still allow clients to block websites that advocate for the full equality of LGBT people. Essentially, some web filtering services are providing tools to discriminate.

That is especially disturbing when one thinks of the vital resources and information that could potentially be denied to users in desperate need for the tools and support they need to feel safe. Could a young person with thoughts of suicide be denied access to the life-saving resources of organizations like The Trevor Project because of this software? Quite possibly.

GLAAD is researching and investigating web filtering software technologies that allow customers to block pro-LGBT equality websites, and we will be contacting the companies to let them know that it's time to filter out discrimination. More updates will be provided as the work to put an end to discriminatory software continues.

If you know of a web filter that blocks LGBT resources, you can contact GLAAD here.


UPDATE (Jan. 15, 8:45pm ET): Au Bon Pain has published an apology on its Tumblr:

We would like to sincerely apologize and set the record straight.

At Au Bon Pain, all of our guests are important to us, and we want to set the record straight regarding misinformation about Wi-Fi access at Au Bon Pain. Foremost, we apologize again for any offense taken by people and communities we count among our friends, family, co-workers, and ourselves.

Au Bon Pain offers café guests free Wi-Fi, provided by a Wi-Fi service company we contract. As a standard practice, the Wi-Fi company uses third-party filter software intended to ensure the comfort and safety of our guests by keeping truly objectionable content inaccessible.

Au Bon Pain did not intend to block reputable sites regarding any LGBT issues, family planning, or any other topics or communities to our guests using Wi-Fi in our cafés. We were unaware the filtering software our Wi-Fi provider uses would block any such sites.  When Au Bon Pain learned yesterday these sites were blocked, we immediately contacted our Wi-Fi provider, who disabled the filter so the sites would not be blocked.

Au Bon Pain apologizes again for any inconvenience our guests experienced by not being able to access reputable websites using our complimentary Wi-Fi at Au Bon Pain’s cafés. It was never our intent to deliberately block any internet site from our guests and we acted immediately to rectify the situation.