Thursday, January 10, 2008

Steal This Wifi

As I've written before, I have a tiny Nokia N800 portable computer that I use to keep in touch and do things such as update this blog while I'm off bicycle touring. On my trip around Washington last July the N800 worked like a champ and I'm still pretty pleased with the device. The N800 is still doing a great job and even though the new N810 with it's built-in keyboard and GPS might be even a little nicer for touring cyclist, I'm not rushing out to replace my N800.

Open wifi hotspots are great boon to the touring cyclists but it seems like every time the subject of wifi comes up on the Touring list you get people expressing the "that's stealing!" viewpoint. My own approach to this one of intent, I try to use hotspots that I believe have been intentionally left open. And if I'm using a coffee shop's open wifi signal, you can bet I've bought my coffee there. Unless they're closed, then I don't feel guilty.

In densely settled urban areas in the US it is common to pick-up connect to an open wifi spot without being able to figure out exactly where it's coming from. Very often these hotspots will just have an identifier like "Linksys" which is the default name for a common brand of wireless router. It is these spots where it is almost impossible to determine the intent of the router's owner. Did they leave the spot open because of neglect or courtesy?

My router at home is open because, as my son notes, "you're a damn hippie, Dad." I've tried several times to explain this to people but Bruce Schneier over at Wired just did a better job of explaining it than I ever could. You can read his essay here:

Like Bruce, I sometimes talk to strangers. Sometimes my computers do as well.


Anonymous said...

I just hope that no one decides to download a bunch of kiddie porn on your connection.

Kent Peterson said...

Gee eric maybe I'm wrong on this and you're a whole lot more up on the habits of kiddie porn afficianodos than I am, but somehow the thought of deviants parking in front of the Issaquah police station (did I mention that I live right across the street from the police station?) to download gigabytes of wireless porn isn't really high on my list of concerns. And if they do decide to park there, I think maybe they'll connect to City Hall's open wifi or the one from the library or the coffee shop down the street. But if they do pick my wifi connection and somebody goes on some massive anti-kiddie-porn indictment crusade, well then the smartest thing I could've done would be to blog publicly about how I leave my connection open. Maybe this whole thing is just some kind of massive cover for me being a pervert?

Maybe not.

I think if I was I wouldn't be talking about stuff like this.

Keep 'em rolling

Keasty said...

Technology! Wow! I'll have to look up the models you are talking about as I'm just about due for a laptop replacement.

Mike McTimoney said...

On the issue of using someone else's wireless network being stealing, the best analogy I've heard compared it to someone having a lawn sprinkler which was sprinkling the street as well as their lawn. If you held a cup out to catch some of the ater, would you be stealing?

My wifi is open.

Anonymous said...

We have security enabled on our wireless router because I don't want our numerous wired neighbors connecting to our network (instead of their own) by accident and slowing our traffic significantly when they do bandwith-intensive things. I know this is possible because I've actually done it to one of them (I felt sheepish and corrected the situation).

Frederick Ingram said...

I say, enjoy the free wi-fi. If you have $60 a month to spend, you can get one of them Internet cards that works through a mobile phone network. I have one, the bandwidth is not great but I can use it most places that get mobile phone service (but not everywhere).

Anonymous said...

I have a problem with Bruce's article and your retelling of it. It's not stealing if you share it willingly. It's bad to perpetuate the sharing of wifi as a theft activity.

No one can steal the use of the wifi at my house - it's there for free use.

For that matter they can read by my porch light or drink water from the hose if they need to. Now, if they take off on my bike, that's stealing.

SeattleM&M said...

Hey there, damn hippy! Rock on!

For the past two years, I've gone computerless at home, and rely on library computers except when I'm not at work. Now I'm really tempted to get one of those mini Nokia machines.

For what it's worth, I'm in agreement with folks who have a hard time seeing use of another's open wi-fi connection as "stealing".

Reminds me of an article I read years ago about software piracy. The article described a machine that made exact car replicas, and proposed that software piracy is like making a car replica and driving away in it, as opposed to stealing the original car.

The author's reasoning aside, I can see reasons people might agree to accept software piracy as a type of theft (eg, many people's livelihoods depend on mutual agreement that "intellectual property" is a thing that can be traded, stolen, etc.). I have a much harder time seeing any real reason to view use of another's open wi-fi link as theft.

Anyway, interesting blog post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'll use anyone's wifi unless I see a sign that says wifi is for customers only.

I don't think it's stealing since most open wifi networks are open for the reason of sharing it with others.

Most establishments that do not want someone on their wifi will have a password protected system of some sorts (like many hotels do).

So if a sign isn't visible saying to only use if a customer, use that wifi.

I would equate using wifi like parking your car in a parking lot. If it says to not park, don't do it. If it's a parking lot and you need to stop, go for it.

Rachel said...

Oh, Kent, whyfore have you forsaken the 200LX? Nokia, indeed!

You were satisfyingly easy to googlestalk. I hope you & Christine & the kids are all doing well! The new job sounds great.

I'm living in Baltimore with three dogs and a girl I met 10 years ago in Dublin (part of a European trip I did, incidentally, with my 100LX in the inside pocket of my motorcycle jacket, armed with your I Ching program). Time flies...

Nina (from Headbone)