Communities Minister quizzes Costa Coffee Boss on firewall blocking PinkNews and Stonewall

PinkNews logo surrounded by illustrated images including a rainbow, unicorn, PN sign and pride flag.

The Managing Director of the second largest coffee chain in the world, Costa Coffee, was questioned this morning by Communities Minister Stephen Williams on why some branches of the chain block access to LGBT websites.

Speaking on BBC Radio Bristol, Communities Minister Stephen Williams questioned the Managing Director of Costa Coffee Jason Cotta on reports that some franchised branches of the Coffee giant block sites such as PinkNews and Stonewall under a firewall category named ‘Sexual Orientation’.

Mr Williams, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West said: “Well when people go to a cafe, first of all it’s good that Wi-Fi is provided … but obviously people want to look at the things they want to look at. If you took a magazine or a book to read in a cafe, you wouldn’t expect the supplier to come up and say, ‘Hello, I don’t expect you to be reading that.’ The same should be applied to the internet.

After the Minister went on to explain the situation, Mr Cotta responded to say that Costa doesn’t “discriminate against anybody”, but that only franchise stores which manage their own WiFi providers have the blocks in place.

He said: “A limited number of our franchise partners use different Wi-Fi providers like individually owned stores that might not use the same provider as us. As you know, filters on wi-fi and internet sites are fairly blunt tools and I think in this particular case, these two sites have been wrongly blocked.

“So we’re talking to our franchise partners at the moment to ensure these sites are not blocked on any wi-fi access in a Costa store,” he continued.

Mr Williams said he had not personally gone to Costa coffee, but that his constituents had complained to him about the block.

He said it “is not that this site is blocked because it’s pornographic. I can see the case of why people would want to block that. But it says it’s blocked because it’s ‘sexual orientation’, so the point is, within Norton anti-virus there is an option of blocking anything to do with sexual orientation.”

Of Norton, the firewall provider, he said: “I think it’s an American company so it might reflect the anti-gay culture there. But certainly, I wouldn’t expect any British retailer to have it.”

Mr Williams went on to say Costa should speak to its franchise owners to make sure their policies are in line with one another, saying: “I’m sure that they would want people to feel comfortable whilst drinking their coffee.”

Mr Cotta agreed, saying: “We think there are less than 200 [stores with the blocks in place], we will be speaking to. We will get them unblocked.”

Following Monday’s report, Costa Coffee responded quickly to say that WiFi users could contact the company if they had concerns, and the firewall provider Norton has recategorised PinkNews as ‘news’ rather than ‘sexual orientation’, but the reason why the category still exists is unclear.

Coffee and juice chain Joe and the Juice tweeted to say they did not realise their firewall had been blocking access to LGBT sites.

Questions sent to Norton on why their firewall includes a ‘sexual orientation’ option on Monday were not answered.