Net cafe chain faces boycott after barring access to gay dating service

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The Independent Online

Gay rights groups called yesterday for a boycott of the internet café chain owned by the billionaire Stelios Haji-Ioannou after the company blocked online access to some websites aimed at homosexuals.

Managers of Gaydar.co.uk, which runs a classified adverts and dating service, said customers at easyEverything's eight stores in Britain were being barred from access despite an absence of "hardcore" material.

The site is one of several, including pages aimed at black lesbians and a gay cruising site, that critics claim are being censored while other heterosexual and homosexual sex sites remain available.

EasyGroup, the parent company for the internet chain, confirmed that a filtering service provided by a subcontractor to eliminate "illegal, obscene or hate" material barred access to some of the gay sites. But James Rothnie, a spokesman for easyEverything, denied that the filtering system was discriminatory, saying that it barred hardcore pornography, regardless of gender. He admitted that the system may be subject to "anomalies".

Gaydar was supported yesterday by Rainbow Network, a gay internet news service that is not barred. It called for a boycott of easyEverything's 21 worldwide stores, used by 2.2 million people a month.

The website also accused the internet chain of being inconsistent in its policy towards them. A spokesman said: "We have a lot of members and we'll ask them not to use easyEverything.

"They've blocked us before, then the ban was lifted and now it's in place again."

A Rainbow Network spokesman added: "When we have a situation where some gay websites are barred and others of similar content but heterosexual are allowed, it looks like discrimination."

EasyEverything, whose flamboyant founder last month entered the list of Britain's billionaires with a fortune of £1.1bn, uses a filtering service provided by the American company, Websense.

Customers seeking to access a site at one of the internet cafés are passed through the Websense computers to ensure that they do not contain banned material, including hardcore pornography.

Those trying to access a barred website are returned to easyEverything home page on their machine.

Mr Rothnie said the system could sometimes exclude sites which would not be classified as obscene and users could register a complaint with Websense to have the blocking mechanism removed.

However, he added that some of the barred sites did contain hardcore pornography and that easyEverything had a duty to prevent customers having access to sites that were likely to be illegal or offensive.

He said: "We have no desire to act as censors but we are obliged to stop sites that offer hardcore material, promote hatred or are illegal.

"When that it is applied to sex sites we do so regardless of gender. There may be anomalies concerning some websites but it is completely wrong to suggest that there is any discrimination."

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