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FedEx Kinko’s Filters Gay Ad Network from Self-Serve Computers

logo-fxofficeFedEx Kinko’s, which recently became FedEx Office, offers self-serve computer service to it’s customers through store locations worldwide.

On these self-serve computers customers are able to access the internet for a variety of reasons along with other basic computer functions such as printing or creating documents. The fee for using the self-serve computers is calculated by the amount of time you are on the computer plus a charge for any printing that is done. On Friday July 31, 2009 I entered the FedEx Office on Hawthorne Blvd. in Torrance, CA to use their self-serve computer service. I needed to print out a contract with The Gay Ad Network, an internet advertising network for the gay and lesbian community. Upon attempting to visit the website www.gayadnetwork.com, I was blocked from viewing their website when the computer filter categorized The Gay Ad Network as “pornography”. The computer asked for an administrator password to bypass the filter if the site I was trying to view was not adult content.

The clerk at the counter made degrading statements about what I was trying to view once I told her I was trying to print out a document from The Gay Ad Network. logo

She told me that I “would not be able to look at that stuff here”. I showed her the email I had from the network, clearly showing her that there was no adult content involved, yet she assured me that because the word “gay” was in the content it was considered adult. I explained to the clerk that I felt I was being discriminated against, that it was equally offensive to me as if they had filtered out the word “hispanic”. I felt I should have had equal access to the internet to retrieve my business documents as any other customer in that store. The clerk refused to enter the password, saying “I don’t have the password”, “there is no password”, and “only the tech guys have the password” then offered to issue me a refund. She issued me a refund for the time I was connected to their self service computer, and while she did she felt it necessary to mention that “other customers would be offended” if I were allowed to view “site’s like that”. I asked her who I could contact to change the filters. There was a sign on the wall with contact information and I asked her if I should contact the store directly or the number on the wall. She told me “Oh, they don’t have time for stuff like that” and waved off my question with her hand.

When I returned home, I contacted the FedEx Customer Relations line and spoke with a woman who took an incident report and apologized profusely for what had happened at their Torrance location.

I explained to the woman on the phone that I felt discriminated against, and she said that she felt that I was right. She mentioned that there was in fact a password, and that the clerk should have entered the password after I showed her that the website I was trying to view was not adult content. However, I mentioned to this woman that I felt that these filters should not filter the word “gay” as “pornography”. I explained that I felt I should be able to walk into any of their locations and print out my business documents like anybody else, and I wanted to know if it was their policy as a company to filter gay websites or if this was an incident that was isolated to their Torrance store. The woman on the phone could not answer that question for me. She assured me that someone would return my call and let me know what their resolution was after some research.

I contacted Mark Elderkin, the head of the Gay Ad Network, at which point he confirmed that this is not the first time one of his publshers has encountered this particular problem with FedEx Kinko’s/FedEx Office.

This fact alone tells me that this was not an isolated incident, and it seems to be a company wide policy to filter gay websites as “pornography” from self-service internet usage on their computers.

If you disagree with the choice FedEx Office has made to automatically filter gay websites as “pornography” you can call 1.800.Go.FedEx (1.800.463.3339) or send an email to fedexoffice.customerrelations@fedex.com.

UPDATE:
To address some of the comments below:

-The location was 23325 Hawthorne Blvd. not 17252 Hawthorne Blvd.

-The woman on the phone said that someone would get back to me right after they contacted their Torrance store. It had been close to 72 hours since the incident when I reported this story, which I did in hopes of having others contact them as well. I have still not received a phone call back, yet I know that the phone calls and emails from readers of this story have helped raise awareness of the situation with FedEx Kinko’s/Office.

-My main intentions on reporting this story were to prevent this situation from happening to others. Allan in San Diego and Mark Elderkin (plus more) have confirmed it has in fact happened to others. As one person alone I, or any others, didn’t have much luck with changing the situation. I think that with the others who have contacted FedEx such as Geron, Tom P, and TRC have helped me bring this matter to the top of their priority list.

- I do not blame FedEx Kinko’s for their employee refusing to enter the password to bypass the filter. The way she talked to me was not in their hands at the time, but I sincerely feel that filter should not be there in the first place. Savvy technicians can program their software to do what they need it to and not what they don’t. I refuse to believe that FedEx Kinko’s doesn’t have the resources to implement a change in their software, as some commenters are insinuating. Filtering the word “gay” or any other word that segregates a particular community of people from their services is wrong.

-When talking with the woman on the phone, I asked her if this filtering problem was company wide or location specific. She “couldn’t answer that” question for me, and had to simply take an incident report. I was very happy that she apologized for the employees behavior, but was very disappointed that she avoided the issue of changing the filters. I told her that I really enjoy using their services and want to be able to continue to use them in the future. I also said that I wanted to know that I could walk into one of their locations and use their computers to print out my business documents like anyone else.

- To those who think I am just being a “whiner” – when/if FedEx Kinko’s changes their policy on those filters I will make just as much noise about it singing their praise. I’m not trying to get into a lawsuit, sue for money, or get anyone fired – I just want to see the filters changed (and perhaps some employee education). What’s right is right.

UPDATED UPDATE:

Please see my post with the resolution to this article here…

FedEx Fixes Filters on Self-Serve Computers

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51 Responses to FedEx Kinko’s Filters Gay Ad Network from Self-Serve Computers

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  2. ~Julie Phineas~

    August 25, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Please see the resolution to this article posted here: http://lezgetreal.com/?p=20536

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  4. JM

    August 14, 2009 at 7:27 am

    …oops.. i meants we are NOT given the passwords.. hehe sorry about that.

  5. JM

    August 14, 2009 at 7:26 am

    I also work for FedEx. I have never been descriminated against (to my knowledge). This article is cycling through the company. I have heard from coworkers about it, and checked it out. I can confirm that we are given the administrative passwords for security reasons. If we had those passwords we could install whatever software we wanted on to any of the computers, which could wreak havoc onto our systems. Accessing websites that require an administrative password like that could also have malicious content, not that the one you were trying to access does of course, it just covers their bases. I don’t think the word “gay” should be a qualifier in what should be blocked content at all, but I do recognize the larger implications of giving all the employees full access to the network. People have been known to abuse this in the past before it was actually locked. I have been around long enough to see it.

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  9. Jonathan

    August 12, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    We’re talking about this incident on our blog today… http://instinctmagazine.com/blog/does-fedex-block-glbt-websites

    • ~Julie Phineas~

      August 12, 2009 at 5:51 pm

      You are very right when you compare this to the incident with Amazon a few months back. Thanks for your support! ~JP~

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  17. AK

    August 12, 2009 at 7:18 am

    Ugh, thank you for making this information available. I’ve sent an email to the address provided, registering my objection to this policy and my very real inclination to take my business elsewhere if it isn’t changed.

    Equating sexual orientation with sexual ACTS – but ONLY when that sexuality is “homo” or “bi,” never “hetero” – is one of the more pernicious ways that prejudice against queer folks gets reinforced in our culture. This particularly flagrant example really disgusts me.

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  19. CC

    August 12, 2009 at 6:38 am

    We should all be boycotting these types of businesses! Please, please, please buy local, people! In this current economic crisis, rather than spending money at Fedex/Kinkos–who will surely zap the profits from your transaction directly to a bank outside of the U.S., as most companies of that size do (for tax reasons)–wouldn’t it be better for the local economy and the environment to keep the money in your area as long as possible? Doesn’t your local library provide these same services? Even if it is a little less convenient, it is worth it in the end. Companies like Fedex/Kinkos destroy local economies, so I don’t care how LGBT friendly they are, I won’t give them my business. I’d rather keep a local copy store in business instead, or support my local library.

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  22. Sue

    August 11, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Julie,

    I just logged into Gay Ad Network, got my Pride lesbian square dancing flyers done and shipped my daughter her new iPod… all at FedEx Office in Alabama. It looks like your FedEx friends came through.

    Sue

    • ~Julie Phineas~

      August 12, 2009 at 5:49 pm

      Thanks Sue for letting me know what is going on in your location. I haven’t been out to the FedEx in Torrance to check things out in there store, and still haven’t heard back from FedEx on this so will be sending an email to them right now to confirm a resolution. Thank you for your comment and insights! Sincerely, Julie Phineas

    • Sue

      August 13, 2009 at 5:55 am

      Julie,

      I visited their Federal Express website, and I found out that they have a GLBT group. Also, you may get an answer via their Media Hotline…See http://news.van.fedex.com/

      Sincerely,

      Sue

  23. ~Julie Phineas~

    August 11, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    I have to admit I was amazed when this happened to me. I have family members who work for FedEx and can say that not all FedEx employees treat customers the way this particular woman did.

    THANK YOU for having my back on this!

    Corporate responsibility is extremely important to me as a consumer and I hope that they fix those filters or at least issue some type of statement real soon.

    Once again… THANK YOU for your support and help.

    XOXOXO

    Julie Phineas

  24. Wolfie

    August 11, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Back2Stonewall supports you Julie!!!

    http://www.back2stonewall.com/?p=9357

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  27. Nathalie

    August 7, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    I am pleased to see that there’s going to be a resolution to this matrer. When I first read this post I was very concerned because I too am a Fedex employee. My experience with Fedex, as an employee, has not only been amazingly supportive and inclusive, but ]I am very proud to work for this company. Fedex does so many things to support the LGBT community and has for many years! Fedex Office (formerly Kinkos) was one of the first companies in the US, back in the early 90′s, to offer same sex benefits. Every year Fedex is a major sponsor of the California AIDS ride, and this year close to 30 employees, including myself, rode from San Fransisco to Los Angeles and raised over $20,000 for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and the San Fransisco AIDS foundation. In addition to the money raised by the Fedex employees, the organization donated time, services, materials, employees to work registration & serve food, as well as provide emotional and medical support to the 7 day ride and it’s 2,300 participants. On top pf all of that the company donated close to $100,000 dollars to support the event and is just what Fedex does in California. I know I sound like some sort of corporate plant, but I’m not. A friend sent me this link because they knew I worked for the company and that I’d be concerned about this issue. I am very involved in my LGBT community and one of the reasons I chose to work for Fedex is because it was an inclusive environment for me and my family. My wife gets birthday cards and we get anniversary cards from my supervisor and company leadership. As unpsetting as this incident is, I would encourage you to see it for what it truly is…an issue of very poor customer service and not a reflection of Fedex/Fedex Office as an organization. It is only through financially supporting companies that do as much as Fedex does for the LGBT community, and it’s LGBT employees, that they will be allowed to continue to advocate for us. I encourage you to look at the track record of Fedex, and not judge it on one bad customer service experience. I hope that employee was terminated, but for all of the LGBT employees that rely on their jobs at Fedex to support their families, and all of the members of the LGBT community that benefit from Fedex investment in things like the Califrnia AIDS ride…please don’t hold back your pink money.

    • JayLene Hommel

      August 12, 2009 at 7:22 am

      I’m glad to see that FedEx is doing good things. But – this comment

      “As unpsetting as this incident is, I would encourage you to see it for what it truly is…an issue of very poor customer service and not a reflection of Fedex/Fedex Office as an organization.”

      shows that you are not addressing the issue. Access to internet websites containing gay ads ie the gayadnetwork.com is determined at a corporate level not in the store. Granted there WAS poor customer service in the store but the issue is obviously bigger that that.

      PS. Please use paragraphs. It makes your material more readable.

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  29. ~Julie Phineas~

    August 5, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    THANK YOU ALL for your comments. Every comment gives a fresh perspective on the situation. I did an update on the story (towards the end) to answer some of the comments. I wanted to let you all know that I am not advancing anything towards FedEx Kinko’s right now except for calling for customer emails and phone calls. For those who have called or emailed FedEx Kinko’s/Office THANK YOU! I also wanted to say that I appreciate the legal advice, human resources perspective, and other insights that have been given. I hope we can come out of the situation with an ally in FedEx, which I am fairly sure will happen if we continue to express how important it is to us as customers that these filters be updated. Until then, I am holding onto my Pink Money, and thinking of buying a printer.

  30. TRC

    August 4, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    I called FedEx and filed an inquiry. I clearly stated that I was “under the impression that your company uses a filter which makes non-pornographic lesbian-gay websites unavailable to your customers at your Kinko’s locations”. I requested that a manager return my call. I was very non accusatory nor belligerent.

  31. Tom P

    August 4, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    I spoke with a regional manager with FedEx Office. They are working with the vendor to fix this problem. They were very responsive and concerned when I brought this to their attention.

    Thank you FedEx Office for your quick action on this.

  32. RC

    August 4, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    if you’ve ever worked in retail OR with computers, you would know that web filtering is a service that companies purchase from other companies designed for this purpose, and as a fedex employee I can truthfully say that nobody in any physical fedex location is given any sort of administrative passwords for any of their systems, including behind the counter.

  33. M a r c

    August 4, 2009 at 12:33 am

    The issue is not if FedEx as a company is good to its employees or not. The issue is about an incident where backwoods bigoted philosophy is discriminating customers at the store level.

    I’m glad FedEx is good to its gay employees. This does not equate that they are good to its gay customers.

  34. Allan

    August 3, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    I had the same issue about 3 weeks ago at a FedEx Office location in San Diego. The lady told me she couldn’t help, and to stop my “disruptive behavior as others walking by could view my pornographic material.” I explained to her that there was nothing pornographic about what I was trying to view (nothing sexual, nude, etc.). She just walked off and then pointed at me while she laughed when discussing the issue with her colleagues.

  35. Julie

    August 3, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    I have to agree with the comment from the FedEx employee. FedEx is a very gay friendly company, and I have been to FedEx Office locations several times and have never encountered this. I dont think it is fair to imply that FedEx did such an act on purpose. I do think it is fair to say that you should have waited to see how the issue is resolved before you publish such a comment. Dont give such a good company a bad wrap, who knows maybe the IT guys wife left him for another woman.

  36. AJ

    August 3, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    As a “gay” FedEx employee, I would like to add a comment. In the 10 years that I have been employed by FedEx I have never experienced any type of discrimination from this company. In fact FedEx is a very “gay” friendly company to work for, just recently they added a clause to the discrimination policy to encompass employees who identify themselves as trans-gender pre or post op. So please dont get on the “gay” band wagon and start pushing yet another issue that could possibly be an honest mistake. As for the clerk, dont let this one narrow minded employee give a company, such as FedEx, a label as being not gay friendly. It really is funny how some gay people look for resons to complain, whine and make a mountain out of a mole hill over the smallest issues. Being gay myself, I have dealt with my fair share of discrimination but I also know there are bigger issues to conquer. Oh, by the way most public libraries, college resource centers, and other public available computer services block this application as well. Hope you have alot of time on your hands to complain about all those as well. Yours truly, a “gay” FedEx employee who is proud to work for such a company.

  37. Abby

    August 3, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    FedEx Kinko’s/Office may be violating California’s law that bans discrimination in access to public accommodations based on sexual orientation by barring access to non-pornographic gay, but not non-pornographic heterosexual, websites. I suggest you mention this the next time you speak with them. Also, you should contact the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which enforces that law and consider filing a formal complaint against FedEx. You can find out how to file a complaint here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/DFEH/Complaints/Default.aspx.

    It’s very important that we take advantage of the legal protections against discrimination that do exist. Otherwise, they aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, and all the hard work that has gone into passing them will be for naught.

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  39. ~Julie Phineas~

    August 3, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for your question the location was at 23325 Hawthorne, however The Gay Ad Network has publishers nationwide who have experienced this problem in their location. I would advise all who have FedEx Office locations near you and try to visit a legitimate general content gay or lesbian website such as http://www.gayadnetwork.com. I can assure you I was very blown away and am awaiting the response from FedEx Office as to what they plan to do about those filters. According to the clerk each store sets the filters, but she is also the one who told me the password to bypass the filters doesn’t exist so we will see what the official response turns out to be.

    Thanks for your comments!

    Julie Phineas

  40. Nelson G

    August 3, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    FedEx may not be at fault for this. Did you make note of the warning screen?

  41. Tom Crowe

    August 3, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    So which Hawthorne Blvd location was it? 17252 Hawthorne Blvd Torrance, CA 90504 OR 23325 Hawthorne Blvd. Torrance, CA 90505? Inquiry minds want to know, so employees for FedEd Office can experience what it’s like to be discriminated against. Force FedEx to thoroughly train their employees, and force FedEx to change their policy of blocking “gay” to be considered as pornography. DO NOT STAND SILENT… This is in our very own backyard. Make a stink about it. So I would very much appreciate knowing which location it is before a much more gigantic mess is made. Please advise. Thank you.

    • Karen

      August 3, 2009 at 10:50 pm

      While it may be viscerally satisfying to bully a FedEx employee, it’s not they who set the policies. Don’t go there. An awful lot of people unleash truly ugly fury on FedEx folks (and other retail staffers everywhere) and it is just plain wrong. Talk about discrimination? What if you give the blast to an LGBT staffer, and there are plenty of them, what have you accomplished but creating an enemy out of someone who should be helping you?

      The administrator functions for the smart filters are not set in the stores, nor are they accessible there despite what the clerk in Torrance may have said. (She was probably trying to find her way out of the situation. Too bad she wasn’t skilled enough to help point you in the right direction.)

      The software itself is basically a search engine that censors based on boolean parameters, not unlike a google or yahoo search. (Except the censoring part, of course) The corporate office sets those filters in motion, which looks for certain combos. Some combination of things, obviously poorly thought out, rolled craps for the filters.

      This very blog, which certainly has gay content, along with many others, does open up at the Fedex Office centers.

      Call the company, write to the corporate office. Be willing to work with them. You may be surprised.

    • Bill

      August 4, 2009 at 7:05 am

      Equating the word gay with pronography is beyong offensive and this person’s actions and behavior clearly shows she failed div ersity training. Regardless of who sets the policies, her application of it, and her dismissal of his rights, under the law is underlying current of this blog.

      Being a Human Resources professional for over 10 years, if this story is true, her behavior is pervasive falls under the DFEH guides against harassment, discrimination and hostile work environment, which covers third-party individuals who may not be employees. The company can be sued and the employee can be sued personally as well. If FedEx does not change their practices, a class-action lawsuit will show them the error of their ways.

    • Karen

      August 4, 2009 at 8:05 am

      Be that as it may, the suggestion was to go into the store and harass the employees. After a point, there are also laws about trespass, and don’t you think that will be mentioned in any court case against FedEx, never mind the employee? As for suing the employee, you may want to look at other principles of tort law.

      I’m in no way saying this is was an appropriate response, it was ignorance on the part of the employee to state what she did. The employee sees a screen that says something was pornographic. She says that cannot be viewed. She elaborated that the word gay was part of the filtering. She was not qualified to answer that, granted, as it is only partially correct. For the record, I wrote my original post on a FedEx computer, as I wished to see things for myself. The software did block the Gay Ad Network, but not my own response, nor a number of LGBT sites, such as Pam’s House Blend, and Joe.My. God (two of my faves!) The Boolean search function of the software let it through. The search parameters are NOT changeable by the employee, who may have felt backed into a corner by the situation. Again, it would be best fix blame on the programming, and address the injustice it causes.

      i’m not in a position to advocate anything about this case, I simply was not there. But as a very longtime Customer Service Manager, I do know that any suggestion of harassing the employees is not going to be productive, as was advocated in the response addressed previously by me .

      It may also be actionable in itself, I might add.

    • Tom Crowe

      August 4, 2009 at 4:10 pm

      Pardon me Miss voice of my conscious…NO my post was not to go bully an employee. Don’t do anyone a favor by reading into a post until the answer is given. THANK YOU. What my post was to imply was to boycott a particular location. Also it was to point out that policy needs to change.

      I really appreciate your concern, but that’s not what I’m about.

    • Geron

      August 4, 2009 at 12:02 pm

      I wrote them a letter and this is what it says………To whom this may concern-
      I was just informed of the incident in Torrance, Ca. with the customer who was gay and was treated poorly because the person was gay. I also learned that your organization blocks any website affiliated with gays. I am offended by the way you cherry pick through your customers based off sexual orientation. Shame on you! My company uses your services and I will inform you that as of today we will no longer conduct business with your establishment. I hope your company corrects this error quickly before its too late. Aside from the gay issue, I can guarantee the majority of your customers do not tolerate prejudice and discrimination against the customer, and will seek other options to replace their business relationships with FedEx/Kinkos.

      Signed Very Dissapointed-
      Geron Esparza
      Phoenix, Az.