51% of free UK Wi-Fi hotspots allow access to porn and adult material

Over half of free public Wi-Fi hotspots in the UK allow access to pornography and other inappropriate material, a new study has found.

Almost a third of UK cafés and restaurants have no filters in place to stop children accessing pornography, with an additional 20 per cent of allowing access to less explicit adult sites such as sex dating services including AdultFriendFinder.com.

The research by mobile security firm AdaptiveMobile sent mystery shoppers to 179 sites in London, Manchester and Birmingham, asking them to access inappropriate content including pornography, drug and violence related websites.

The investigation found that 53 per cent of cafés and restaurants do not have any restrictions in place to block e-commerce sites selling knives and swords, and four out of five also granted full access to drug-linked content such as ILoveCocaine.com.

"For every parent across the UK this report will come as an unwelcome surprise," said Graeme Coffey, AdaptiveMobile's VP of product strategy and business development.

"In the last two years there have been two convergent trends: a big increase in public Wi-Fi or "hospitality Wi-Fi" and greater access to smartphones, gaming consoles and tablets with a Wi-Fi capability, the kind of device a child could have.

"Most people will instinctively block adult content when it comes to filtering, but what these results show is that we should also be looking at content related to drugs and violence which are just as harmful but frequently overlooked."

The report examined filtering in cafés, restaurants, hotels, retailers and public spaces. Hotels fared the worst out of the five categories, with three quarters not blocking pornography, and only one in ten actively blocking online weapons shops.

"Cafés, restaurants, hotels and administrators of public spaces should talk to their ISP and other bodies to understand the most appropriate filtering methods for their premises," said Coffey.

Andy Phippen, professor of social responsibility in IT at Plymouth Business School, added: "Having filters in public spaces is just as important as other restrictions such as the smoking ban and modesty covers on adult magazines."

"The fact that this protection isn't available in a significant proportion of publicly accessible sites will undoubtedly cause concern. However, we should also reflect on the effectiveness of some of those in place - simply having a filter doesn't necessarily mean everything is protected. These results should encourage public outlets across the UK to review the Wi-Fi services that they have in place and ensure that they are fit for purpose and appropriate for their customers."

Image credit: Flickr (La Citta Vita)