FedEx 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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
Please see my post with the resolution to this article here…