Even before futuristic WiFi kiosks installed by LinkNYC switched on throughout New York City, people were drawn to them, punching buttons and wondering how the monoliths might change the experience of walking down the sidewalk.

The 400 or so rectangles have changed that experience quite a bit, it turns out--in a way that might inspire you to sigh, "This is why we can't have nice things."

People are using the kiosks to watch porn on the web browser screens in public, sometimes within eyeshot of children, reports the New York Times. Complaints about porn watching and other behaviors, like individuals hogging the screen for hours at a time, have prompted the LinkNYC partnership to shut the internet browser feature off while it works with the city to find a solution. Features other than internet browsing, like maps and directions, remain. And the gigabit WiFi is still available.

Basically, what were considered phone booths of the future are at the current moment more like the Firefly brand of phone for kids, which only allows the user to call a limited list of numbers programmed into the phone. The kiosks are devices with usage restricted because folks apparently can't be trusted to use them as intended.

One of the reasons the kiosks were deemed early on to be so interesting was that they offered certain new possibilities--and possibly expanded certain challenges--for businesses. Free superfast internet hotspots were seen as having big potential for local commerce.

Free WiFi throughout the city means businesses that didn't offer WiFi and are located near kiosks are now WiFi-enabled, making them appealing to people who might otherwise pass them over. Imagine, for example, a person traveling on business who wants to grab a bite and type an email from their laptop at a diner that doesn't offer internet. If the diner is near enough to a kiosk, that's not an issue.

The WiFi also seemed like great news for international travelers, who may be meandering New York streets without a working data plan. Now if they bring their phones, they have service regardless of their plan.

Of course, more readily available WiFi means that more people, regardless of whether their phones have good data plans, can compare retail prices in store with other stores and online. This can pose a challenge for brick and mortar retailers, not that it's one they don't already face. More (and faster) WiFi just makes the challenge potentially a bit more pervasive.

LinkNYC is still slated for expansion, according to the Times. When I visited some kiosks early in the year just prior to them switching on, a Japanese researcher said he was studying them to see if something similar might be a good fit for Japan. Now foreign countries considering internet kiosks have a case study in what features might stir trouble.

Not that using open internet access to publicly watch porn is anything new. This is a topic that has been hashed out. The New York Public Library as of 2011 asserted watching porn on library computers was protected by the First Amendment. With that precedent in mind, it seems LinkNYC might have an issue a little more complicated than adhering to the rules of public decency.

Published on: Sep 15, 2016