Leading computer companies are helping anti-LGBTI people to block public access to ‘gay and lesbian’ websites – including vital services.
The policy, including at Dell, has been condemned as ‘incredibly poor business sense’ and dangerous for vulnerable people.
Two of the companies known to be involved are supportive of gay rights in public, scoring 100% in the US Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.
But behind the scenes they are selling a product allowing the filtering.
It means sites which have no sexual content can be blocked – including in workplaces, schools, colleges and other public places.
Even sites which provide support to vulnerable LGBTI kids and adults are openly included in the system.
One firm, Trend Micro, has now agreed to drop the filtering option immediately after Gay Star News highlighted the problem. But Dell, an officially gay-friendly firm, is refusing to do so.
Dell sells a ‘premium’ internet filtering product to block ‘sites that provide information, promote, or cater to gay and lesbian lifestyles’.
Their product proves LGBTI sites are not being accidentally mistaken for porn – but deliberately blocked.
The Dell SonicWALL product also blocks other kinds of content, but ‘gay and lesbian’ and ‘religion’ are the only two diversity and inclusion areas it singles out for censorship.
We asked Dell these questions:
- If you wouldn’t filter content targeting ethnic minorities, women, etc, why would you consider a ‘gay and lesbian’ filter acceptable?
- Does this not constitute discrimination against the LGBTI community?
- Does this not make it harder for vulnerable LGBTI people to access essential information?
- How does this square with your claims you are an LGBTI friendly company?
- Do you realize if this filter is used in some countries it may be illegal?
- Will you remove this filter option from your product and apologize?
- Will you whitelist any sites which have been blacklisted as a result of this?
- Will you review all other Dell and SonicWall products to ensure no other discrimination of this kind is in place?
A spokeswoman replied: ‘Dell SonicWALL security products offer a multitude of content filtering options that help connection owners make choices to allow or not allow access of certain sites based on business and organization needs.
‘The gay and lesbian content filter is part of a filter category that represents many different topics of interest. Our goal is to provide choices to our customers, allowing access to what they need so they can ensure a productive and efficient environment for their users.
‘We make no judgment on our customers’ filter choices, we never deny access to any sites, nor do we pre-populate a block on any sites, including gay and lesbian sites.’
We repeatedly asked Dell for a follow-up interview so we could press them for answers to our original questions, as we felt their response had not failed to address those points. They stopped taking our calls or responding to emails.
But another company, Trend Micro, took a completely different view.
They work with Cisco Systems, a multinational networking firm, which also has a 100% score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index measuring LGBTI workplace rights.
A Trend Micro spokesman emphasized they did not do the filtering themselves, merely provided a means for others to do so.
But when GSN pointed out that sexuality and gender identity are ‘identities’ not ‘lifestyle choices’ he accepted the point and promised to take it to the legal department.
Just hours later, he contacted us again to say the legal department had recognized the problem ‘some years ago’.
He said: ‘We resolved to eliminate the category because some employers were using it to censor legitimate non-prurient content that happened to be LGBT
‘We are investigating why this hasn’t already happened and will be taking corrective action to ensure that it does.’
Cisco Systems itself, however, is yet to respond to our invitation to comment.
Richard Lane, media manager of gay rights organization Stonewall, said applying the filters even in the workplace was bad for business.
He said: ‘Top performing organizations know people perform better when they can be themselves.
‘This clumsy content filtering would mean businesses are unable to access Stonewall’s extensive online resources which help them support gay staff and build top performing, inclusive work places.
‘That’s just incredibly poor business sense.’
And a gay website owner said the problem was much greater than just that.
He said: ‘Public access to quality LGBTI information has helped vulnerable people and saved lives. These blocks impact on kids in schools, on workplaces trying to push diversity, on gay activists on the ground.
‘They wouldn’t ban black sites, there would be outrage, so why do they allow this? It’s because they can get away with it. Because they think “gay” is still a dirty word.
‘This censorship is utterly incompatible with firms who maintain they are gay friendly. Just like what is happening in Russia, its effect is to silence LGBTI voices, to stop us uniting, to stop us helping each other.
‘Some of the people involved aren’t intending to be hateful, they just haven’t filtered it through. But now they know, they have to stop. Today. Otherwise they are just as guilty.’
He didn’t want to be named, saying other people who have stood up on this subject have seen their own sites suddenly censored.
GSN has previously suggested all website filtering should be open, democratic and overseen by clearly identified rules and a watchdog.
Today (26 December), transgender journalist Jane Fae, who has broken a number of stories on this subject, has written for us about the issues. You can read her Comment article here.
UPDATE: Dell has now (15 January 2014) announced it is removing the filter category and thanked GSN for highlighting the issue. The change will affect millions of users worldwide. Read the full article here.