Wifitising: Great Idea, or Daft and Dangerous?

by jeremy on November 3, 2008

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WiFi has become a commodity, something we expect to be able to find, but marketers are slowly waking up to its potential to get the message out—by renaming the service. But is it such a good idea?

A Dutch company, according to Adrants, has started changing the name of its WiFi service continually—both to promote items and to nag freeloaders into buying coffee:

By continuously changing the names of their store networks to such things as OrderAnotherCoffeeAlready, BuyCoffeeForCuteGirlOverThere?, HaveYouTriedCoffeeCake?, BuyAnotherCupYouCheapskate, TodaysSpecialExpresso1.60Euro and BuyaLargeLatterGetBrownieForFree, the chain is able to both promote items as well as guilt patrons into realizing free WiFi really isn’t totally free.

Some boring questions are not answered in the article, such as whether users find themselves bumped off the network when the name changes (I guess not) to whether regular customers complain that they have to change their WiFi settings every time they log on.

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And they’re not the first to try something like this: A German car rental company called SIXT has set up WiFi networks in airports with names promoting the car company’s brand. Select the WiFi network and you’re taken to the company’s home page.

The article doesn’t explain whether these WiFi networks provide real connections, or merely access to the company’s page. Needless to say, if it’s the latter any positive message may be undone. And, as the writer points out, this “wifitising” is a form of spam that people may not appreciate.

On top of that is the growth in dodgy WiFi networks that offer free WiFi but actually launch “man in the middle” attacks to eavesdrop on your passwords and other data as you use the network. A hacker last month, for example, accessed personal emails of guests using a U.S. hotel’s free WiFi network. A study by Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research of 147 U.S. hotels found that only six of the 39 hotels (HTML version of the PDF file, which requires registerig to download) offering WiFi were encrypting traffic. It concluded hotels were “ill-prepared to protect their guests from network security issues.”

The problems with changing the names of WiFi networks are obvious: They further confuse the user and reduce the chances of a standard emerging that may reduce people’s vulnerability when using WiFi. Of course, anyone can give a WiFi an official-sounding name, so networks are vulnerable to start with, and the Cornell report shows that using even legit WiFi leaves users vulnerable. So it’s hard to see this wifitising trend—small tho it is—as anything more than a fad, because if it does catch on, it’s going to make using public WiFi more complicated and misleading, rather than less so.

Renamed WiFi Networks Guilt Freeloaders Into Buying Coffee » Adrants

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