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Why Starbucks and McDonald's agreed to block Wi-Fi pornography

The restaurants plan to implement filtering technology to block porn websites, as Chick-fil-A and Panera Bread have already done.

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Starbucks patrons use laptop computers at a shop in Cambridge, Mass., in 2012. Starbucks and McDonalds told The Associated Press Monday that they're in the process of implementing technology to filter pornography from Wi-Fi connections at their stores.

Charles Krupa/AP/File

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Patrons of McDonald's and Starbucks can no longer watch pornography on the chains' public Wi-Fi, as both are implementing filtering technology to block sexually explicit content.

The move is the result of a campaign from anti-pornography groups Enough is Enough (EIE) and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE). EIE launched the "National Porn Free Wi-Fi" campaign in the fall of 2014, with nearly 50,000 petitions and 75 partner organizations urging McDonald's and Starbucks to block pornography from their public Wi-Fi.

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EIE President Donna Rice Hughes called the recent announcement a "huge victory." 

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"Parents can have peace of mind that, when they or their children go to McDonald's, they will have a safer and more friendly Wi-Fi experience, filtered from pornography, from child porn and from potential sexual exploitation and predation," she said in a statement on Wednesday, following the announcement from McDonald's. 

The agreement comes amid a national debate on the dangers of pornography, as the Republican Party is reportedly moving to declare internet pornography a "public health crisis" under an amendment that was added to its 2016 platform draft at preliminary meetings last week. 

"Thanks in part to the internet, it is now beyond an individual's or a family's capacity to adequately protect against, or overcome the harmful influences of, pornography," said Dawn Hawkins, executive director of NCOSE, to CNN at the time. She added that research has shown pornography use is linked to decreased gray matter in the brain, having more sexual partners, and perpetuating rape myths

"This reality requires a public health approach to raise awareness about the harms of pornography, provide resources to those struggling with it and to offer effective prevention strategies," she said. 

While there are no statistics on how often the public Wi-Fi at McDonald's and Starbucks has been used to view pornography, Ms. Hughes told CNN Money that there have been news reports about public Wi-Fi hotspots increasingly being used to traffic child pornography and the sexual solicitation of children. 

"These criminal felonies are difficult to deter because of the anonymity offered by open Wi-Fi," she said. 

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So far, Wi-Fi filtering has already been activated in the majority of the nearly 14,000 McDonald's restaurants nationwide, the Associated Press reports. A spokesperson from Starbucks said its shops plan to implement filtering as soon as it can figure out a system that "also doesn't involuntarily block unintended content."

The two companies join several smaller national restaurant chains that already filter out pornography, such as Chick-fil-A and Panera Bread, according to NCOSE. EIE and NCOSE say they hope that, with the influence of McDonald's and Starbucks, more establishments will follow. 

"We commend both Starbucks and McDonalds for leading the way for corporate America to provide safer Wi-Fi," Hughes said. "We will vigorously continue to encourage other businesses and venues such as hotels, airlines, shopping malls, and libraries to filter pornography and child abuse images on publically available Wi-Fi in order to protect children and families."

For its part, The American Library Association has long opposed efforts to implement filters in public libraries. In a statement on their website, the group cites studies that show that filters frequently block constitutionally protected speech while failing to block illegal child pornography. "We're concerned that filters give parents a false sense of security that their children are protected when they aren't," read the statement. "Education is more effective than filters."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.