NEW YORK--It involved three shopping districts, two subway lines, and a whole lot of walking in the freezing cold. But I completed my mission to hit up all three Manhattan Apple stores to see if it was true that the retail outlets' computer stations had blocked access to Facebook because too many people were using the popular social network to waste time. (Editors' note: at publish time, the link above was experiencing a network time-out error.)
The verdict: An Apple Store representative told me in a phone call later on Friday, "We have not blocked Facebook from our stores." But it looks like some stores may have put a block in place on their own accord.
Apple retail stores are famously stocked with Internet-accessible workstations that, while intended to be used as demonstrations for prospective buyers, are also free for the public to use. That's led to some problems with nonshoppers monopolizing the machines and taking up space: in mid-2007, Apple blocked access to MySpace, which was then the world's biggest social-networking site.
I hit up Apple's Fifth Avenue flagship store in midtown (you know, the big glass cube), the 14th Street store in the Meatpacking District, and the store on Prince Street in the downtown neighborhood of SoHo.
At the Fifth Avenue store, I was able to access Facebook from one laptop, but on another, the facebook.com domain redirected to an Apple Store page. In the Meatpacking District store, meanwhile, two laptops loaded Facebook without a problem, but a desktop computer brought up a message explaining that the parental controls feature in the Safari browser had blocked it.
In the SoHo store, meanwhile, I had no problem accessing Facebook from any of the random computers I checked out. Ironically, it was in the SoHo store that was populated by the most people who clearly weren't customers; by the time I swung by, it was lunch hour at a local high school, and the computers were occupied by teenagers checking out games and music.
So, what it looks like is that even if there is no nationwide ban of Facebook at Apple stores as some had speculated, a few individual stores have chosen to go their own route.
This post was updated at 1:05 p.m. PT with comment from Apple.