Access to sites such as PinkNews and Stonewall is blocked by the firewalls in Costa Coffee and Joe and the Juice, under a filter category named ‘Sexual Orientation’.

Several PinkNews readers wrote in to say they were unable to access sites such as that of leading gay rights charity Stonewall, and PinkNews, using the shops’ public wifi due to a firewall.

Costa has responded to say that only franchises using the brand are affected by the block. Franchised branches use the Costa brand, but are independently owned like many branches of Subway.

The firewall, provided by Norton ConnectSafe, blocks sites under certain categories, and despite containing no adult or explicit content, both PinkNews and Stonewall were blocked under ‘sexual orientation’ sites.

CostaNorton

PinkNews is blocked under the Norton wifi under a ‘sexual orientation’ category.’

While Joe and the Juice tweeted joking: “Websites should pay a fee to Norton #powerofinformation… We haven’t chosen to block any sites obviously,” Norton insisted that each company must select which categories it wants to be blocked.

A Norton spokeswoman told PinkNews that the staff “constantly review” the categories, and that “miscategorisations” sometimes happen.

She said Norton would look into why the sites were blocked and what the category means.

A spokesperson for Costa said: “When accessing the internet at our company-operated stores via our provider O2, PinkNews.co.uk is not a website that we prevent people from viewing.

“In the instances where customers have found that PinkNews.co.uk is blocked; this may be due to them being in a franchised Costa store as not all our partners use O2 Wifi.

“In some instances – particularly with corporate partners such as supermarkets or motorway services – Costa is not responsible for the management of the chosen a wi-fi provider.

“We urge any customers who feel that a website has been filtered unnecessarily to get in touch with us so we can look into the matter for them.

“It’s important that our customers can feel assured of the type of online content that can be accessed.”

Hannah Kibirige, Education Policy Office at Stonewall told PinkNews: “The internet is a vital source of information for many lesbian, gay and bisexual young people. We hope that Costa carefully reviews the sites that are blocked by their internet filters so people can access support and guidance whilst enjoying their cappuccino.”

Joe and the Juice did not immediately return a call for further comment.

Aid and development charity Oxfam last year responded to a report from PinkNews which found that access to LGBT news sites was being blocked from terminals operated by the charity, to say that it was the result of an automated firewall, and is not company policy.