Tissue Sir? Don't be alarmed by the vibrations... It's just the lady in 5C enjoying her flight
A reported decision by Delta Air Lines to block inappropriate websites from its planned in-flight WiFi service could be just the tip of the iceberg for airlines' control of Internet use.
Delta, which plans to offer WiFi on some planes
later this year and on its whole domestic fleet in 2009, has decided to prevent passengers from accessing 'inappropriate content', according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article. Delta said it had considered turning to its flight attendants to
handle the problem but decided to adopt technical means instead.
Delta plans to offer the GoGo service from Aircell, the same system used by American. GoGo uses a network of cellular towers on the ground to transmit data back and forth to WiFi
routers on planes. It will charge passengers US$9.95 for service on flights of three hours or less, and $12.95 for longer flights.
Aircell will implement content filtering for airlines if asked, the company said in an e-mail response to
At least one privacy rights advocate criticized the idea, but there's a good chance travelers will have to leave their traditional expectations about Internet use on the ground before they log on in the air.
I don't think it
makes much sense, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. For one thing, it won't prevent passengers from looking at inappropriate material stored on their own laptops, he said. But it also opens the door
to blocking of other content, such as news or political opinions.
It's so easy, once that precedent is set, to broaden ... the kind of information blocks that might be imposed, Rotenberg said. Considering how many of the world's airlines
are owned by national governments, it wouldn't be surprising to see them filter out, for example, any site that criticizes the country's leader, he said.
To avoid the slippery slope of Internet filtering, airlines would be better off dealing with
offensive Web use as they do other things that upset nearby passengers, he said. The current procedure for dealing with unruly passengers should be adequate, Rotenberg said.
Bowing to pressure from flight attendants and, supposedly, customers, American Airlines has said it will soon be blocking access to pornographic websites on its new Aircell in-flight Internet access service. Delta announced a similar plan earlier this
Naturally, privacy and civil rights advocates are already criticizing the move. Filters always tend to cast a very wide net, taking with them plenty of non-pornographic content while missing sites that many will find offensive. And of
course, there's invariably the question of whether filtering will extend to violence, hate speech, and other frequently-censored content.
Well, if nothing else, American has probably inadvertently launched a new diversion for bored fliers
travelling across the country: Beat the Filter, where buddies try to see who can slip some adult content past the censor first.