In September, Google-backed Wi-Fi initiative LinkNYC had to strip its Link kiosks of public browsing capabilities due to reports that homeless users were outstaying their welcome. Since LinkNYC’s launch in January 2016, there had been numerous complaints that homeless people were using the kiosks to watch porn and otherwise be a “nuisance”, so LinkNYC scrapped web browsing on all of the tablets that are found in its 400 LinkNYC stations around New York City. Not exactly the heroic philanthropy LinkNYC pledged when first advertising the stations.
Now, Link is coming to London, in partnership with UK telecom provider BT. But users will be getting a slimmed-down version of the original LinkNYC kiosks, as the company feared a repeat of the New York City incidents.
“They won't actually have browser functionality on the tablet that will be on the kiosk,” a Link spokesperson told Motherboard. “So there won't be an opportunity for anyone to set up a Google search or be able to monopolise on those kiosks so other people wouldn't be able to use them, they wouldn't be able to encounter that issue [of watching porn].”
"They won't actually have browser functionality on the tablet that will be on the kiosk."
It’s a shame. Fast Wi-Fi is great, but for the thousands of residents in London and NYC who can’t afford a mobile device, it’s rendered utterly useless. The initiative between Link and BT, called LinkUK, has been welcomed by London’s Deputy Mayor for Business Rajesh Agrawal, who said that “LinkUK can play a big part in improving connectivity for Londoners and visitors to our city”. Just as long as they have money and homes, I guess.
The Link spokesperson told Motherboard that the company had seen a “higher level of engagement” after making the changes in New York City, which could be interpreted as “we have blasted more people with advertising.” Apt, seeing as one of the main sponsors of LinkUK is advertising agency Primesight, which is rumored to be getting $8-$12 million a year out of the deal.
What I’d like to see, short of access to full public services at these stations in the future, is at least some kind of basic functionality for homeless people in London to contact support services through the kiosks. The internet is a critical, necessary lifeline in 2016, and on occasion can be of most use to homeless people. These types of kiosks can be of help to all Londoners, just not in their current state.
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