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One More Mainstream Crossover That Didn’t Cross: Airlines Shutting Down Porn

[Wired.com]- People get bored on long flights, which is why we love in-flight Internet access. It lets people check email, read Wired.com, watch the stock market collapse and enjoy their favorite scenes from On Golden Blonde and Forest Hump.

Airlines, worried the wi-fi services they’re rolling out will turn planes into flying porn theaters, are installing filters to prevent passengers from surfing smut. The decision is hailed by flight attendants — who’ve so far been responsible for preventing porn peeping — and by activists concerned that children and other passengers might be subjected to objectionable material. They also worry unfettered onboard Internet access poses a security and safety risk.

American Airlines says it will “implement technology to filter pornographic content over it’s Gogo in-flight Internet service.” It’s an about-face for the airline, which had said it would leave the nannying to flight attendants. The course correction was prompted in part by the vocal concerns of flight attendants who didn’t want to be morality cops after the airline started offering in-flight wi-fi last month.

“Flight attendants are on board to provide security and safety for passengers, not to monitor their Internet usage,” Corey Caldwell of the Association of Flight Attendants told Wired.com. “We’re glad the airlines have responded to our concerns and to those of passengers.”

But at least one privacy rights advocate opposes the idea and says blocking porn is the first step down a slippery slope.

“I don’t think it makes much sense,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told ITWorld.com. Filters do nothing to keep people from viewing inappropriate material stored on their laptops and open the door to blocking other content airlines — or others — might deem inappropriate, he says. “It’s so easy, once that precedent is set, to broaden … the kind of information blocks that might be imposed.”

Airline cabin crews aren’t the only ones worried about airborne porn. Girls Against Porn lobbied American to install filters, urging the airline to consider the harm inappropriate content might have on passengers and citing a particularly disgusting incident that has resulted in a $200,000 lawsuit against American. “The airlines risk having this happen repeatedly if the Internet isn’t filtered,” Girls Against Porn said in a statement.

Delta Airlines, which rolls out in-flight wi-fi later this year, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution it will filter inappropriate content. “Blocking will be limited in scope and will be for sites that few, if any, would question are inappropriate to be viewed on an aircraft,” spokesman Kent Landers said, addressing concerns about filters known to block non-erotic sites such as Vanity Fair.

The two airlines are working with Aircell, which provides the wi-fi technology, to find a filter, though the company has yet come up with a solution. “We want to be good partners to the customers coming to us with these types of concerns,” a company source told Wired.com. “We’re working with them to come up with an effective solution.”

When they do, passengers will have to find another way to occupy themselves on those long-haul flights.

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