My love-hate relationship with Panera Bread has officially turned to all-hate, all the time. I spent the majority of last Sunday at Panera’s Brookline location, in an effort to plow through my workload uninterrupted. Mind you, the food at Panera is delicious for fast food…ever since my high school days of sneaking away to Panera for a cheap PB&J on whole wheat, I’ve respected the chain’s healthy fast food mentality. But after my first thirty minutes online, I was a bit annoyed when I had to refresh my browser and accept the Panera wifi TOS all over again. Still, it was worth the small effort…until my battery wore down a bit and I noticed that the store only had two electrical outlets accessible to customers. Ooookay. I found a new spot near one, set back to work, opened Twitter, clicked a link and…discovered tinyurl was blocked?!
You’d think that would have been the last straw, but no – I stayed for the rest of the day. Then I blogged about it, and attempted to make contact with Panera and SonicWALL, their filtering software company. I noted to SonicWALL that tinyurl is not, in fact, a circumvention tool (their response was to tell me that they thought it was and will continue to mark it as such).
And then I got in touch with Panera. I explained to them that, while tinyurl appears to have circumvention properties, if a site is in fact blocked by SonicWALL, then tinyurl will not allow one to bypass the filter. For example, Panera blocked access to http://playboy.com; if I send you a tinyurl link that redirects to Playboy (assuming tinyurl were unfiltered), you still would not be able to access Playboy. Panera’s response? Totally lame. They had a disclaimer on it, so I can’t repost the entire message, but here’s the gist:
Tinyurl is blocked because the site is well known as a source of potential malicious activity and presents a risk to our general WiFi user community
While it does appear that tinyurl has been used for malicious purposes, I think “presents a threat to our general WiFi user community” is a bit strong. And that statement still doesn’t explain the fact that SonicWALL classifies the site as a circumvention tool.
So today I ventured back to Brookline Panera to test out more sites. I’d just settled in, started to create a list of blocked sites, then noticed my connection had disappeared. And when I went to refresh and log back in, Panera told me that I had exceeded my thirty minute peak time limit. Nevermind the fact that the store was half-empty.
And so I moved to Bruegger’s Bagels down the street, where the food may not be as great, and the soup selection is weak, but they serve great (Green Mountain) coffee, and invite you to stay as long as you like on their network:
Additionally, their TOS is quite amenable (containing even a clause on Usenet News!) and they don’t block tinyurl or a whole lot of other allegedly offensive sites that Panera does (including a number of sites I might use for work purposes). I don’t dare check if they block porn (wouldn’t want to violate the TOS!), but if you find out, let me know!