Wi-Fi: Sharing, Piggybacking and the legal implications

No Comments

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion on Wi-Fi access sharing. This is not a new topic but it has probably found a new life with FON building a business model around people sharing their Wi-Fi access and FON getting major funding from both Skype and Google. I probably have to thank Martin Varsavsky for all the press and blog coverage it is generating and the material I can use in my research.Lock

Since I am still in the middle of my Wi-Fi survey (you should take it if you haven’t done so already) that focuses on these issues of sharing, usability and legal implications, I won’t comment on the topic now but just provide some pointers and “interesting” quotes. I am also preparing a case study on FON, big municipal Wi-Fi initiatives like San Francisco TechConnect and the likes.
It is amazing what people will say to defend one or the other position of this topic. Especially the analogies!

From the New York Times story titled Hey Neighbor, Stop Piggybacking on My Wireless (Mar 5th 2006)

For a while, the wireless Internet connection Christine and Randy Brodeur installed last year seemed perfect. They were able to sit in their sunny Los Angeles backyard working on their laptop computers.

But they soon began noticing that their high-speed Internet access had become as slow as rush-hour traffic on the 405 freeway.

“I didn’t know whether to blame it on the Santa Ana winds or what,” recalled Mrs. Brodeur, the chief executive of Socket Media, a marketing and public relations agency.

The “what” turned out to be neighbors who had tapped into their system.


But they soon began noticing that their high-speed Internet access had become as slow as rush-hour traffic on the 405 freeway.

“I didn’t know whether to blame it on the Santa Ana winds or what,” recalled Mrs. Brodeur, the chief executive of Socket Media, a marketing and public relations agency.

The “what” turned out to be neighbors who had tapped into their system.


Many home network owners admit that they are oblivious to piggybackers.

Some, like Marla Edwards, who think they have locked intruders out of their networks, learn otherwise. Ms. Edwards, a junior at Baruch College in New York, said her husband recently discovered that their home network was not secure after a visiting friend with a laptop easily hopped on.

“There’s no gauge, no measuring device that says 48 people are using your access,” Ms. Edwards said.



Wi-Fi Survey – How do you use Wi-Fi (wireless Internet) technology?


OSU Wi-Fi Survey: How do you use wireless Internet

As part of the research project for my master, I am conducting an online survey on how people understand and use Wi-Fi technologies.

The goal of the survey is to help improve the design of Wi-Fi by collecting various user experiences.

Whether you have used it only once or use it everyday, every experience you had with Wi-Fi is valuable to this research and I will appreciate if you would take the time to answer my online survey.

The survey is 6-12 min depending on your experience with Wi-Fi and do not require any technical expertise to be answered.

Click here to take the Wi-Fi survey


Visit to Stanford Law School: Wifi and the law

1 Comment

I was down in the Bay Area two weeks ago mostly in order to meet some people to discuss research. My first stop was at the Stanford School of Law where I was hoping to get some more literature on the legal aspects of telecommunication laws related to WiFi. After spending a couple of hours at the library, I (and the librarian) figured that the information I was looking for was not yet publicly available.

My goal was to find as much information as possible on the case Richard Dinon vs Benjamin Smith III for WiFi trespassing (more info here or here). I believe this case is the first of the kind where somebody get sued for trespassing because he is using somebody else open WiFi connection without permission. The case may be still in progress or has been settled but there has apparently been no update available anywhere since last July.

I was also hoping to find more regulation and legal literature about wireless networking but it looks like I already found most of the ones specifically related to WiFi (there is not that much yet).

Since I was on site, I passed by the Center for Internet and Society to see if I could get some more information. I ended getting an appointment with Professor Lawrence Lessig, who gave me some really good pointers and was especially helpful in sorting through some of the issues and reducing the complexity of my project.

One of the problem I was facing was: how can I design a system where people can retrieve information about whether or not they are allowed to connect to a wireless network while they are offline. The easy way felt like a Catch 22: To know if you were allowed to connect, you would have to connect and get the information from the Internet. Therefore, you could possibly be breaking the law for the sole purpose to know if what you are doing (or planning to do) is legal.

But apparently if the intent and only purpose of the initial connection was to retrieve information on your right to connect then this would not be considered illegal. Professor Lessig recommended me to read Order without Law : How Neighbors Settle Disputes which should give me a better understanding of how this would work.

He also recommended me to look into RDF and the InfoCard research on an identity metasystem to use in my design.

So , even if I didn’t have time to really visit the rest of the Stanford campus, the trip was more than worth it.


Stanford Campus – Flickr Album

Fon Wi-Fi gets support from Google and Skype to build a (sort of) wireless freenet


As I am doing research on the interaction design issues with wireless networking, I have been particularly interested in seeing how the story with Fon will evolve. I first reported on Fon in October before they launched and I have seen that the movement was gaining some momentum even before being officially launched. but then, I figured out that the solution they were offering was not that novel — Robert Cringely reports on a micro franchisee business model that looks pretty similar — . Experts in the field of wireless and broadband were questioning it too (see Om Malik, Glenn Fleishman).FON wireless

Now that Fon has get major financial backing by company like Google or Skype, this changes the situation. Not only are they getting money but also a lot of free marketing with nearly any major publications talking about Fon. Glenn and OM Malik have posted a nice update on the situation.

I believe that we need to come up with a solution to offer an unified and enriched user experience in regard to wireless networking. The question that stands is not if it is going to happen (I believe it will) but how and when it will happen.

Fon has definitely an opportunity to get it right and has partners that can help it . But there are still major obstacles for it to become successful.


The number of hotspots is not directly linked to the value of the network. While Metcalfe’s Law

The value of a network equals approximately the square of the number of users of the system (n2) (Wikipedia)


IT@Home: Unraveling Complexities of Networked Devices in the Home

No Comments

My position paper has been accepted for a second Workshop at CHI: IT@Home: Unraveling Complexities of Networked Devices in the Home .
I will present the interaction design side of my research on end-user networking and the issues and opportunities with multiple channels to access information.

CHI 2006 - Montreal

  • How can we move from a device (or connectivity) centered approach (for ex: using a mobile phone, TV or Wi-Fi ) to a activity centered approach (watching a video, accessing securly a bank statement)?
  • How can we help turn network connectivity consumers into producers (similarly to what has been done in digital media for example)?
  • How can we help users have an optimal unified experience despite technologies like DRM, network neutrality,….
  • How do we design networking technologies to better account for information asymmetry or bounded rationality..


Older Entries