Dangers of Free WiFi

IMG_1332At a truck stop, or rather an EnRoute, a name given to the stops on the 401 highway likely because it has similar meanings in both English and French, I was trying to log onto the “free” WiFi as I stood in line at Tim Horton’s.

There were three people in front of me and the line was moving fast. The two-stage login was driving my iPhone crazy. First you have to, actually, I don’t know what you are supposed to do first. That was part of my problem. The readout on my phone said that I had access to WiFi, but my email program said that I did not.

I know from past experience that you have to open a browser and “I agree” before you are connected, but it was not working smoothly. The next person had paid and left the front of the line and I had only one person before I had to order my coffee. My desire was simple. I wanted to download my emails before I got back into the van. I was travelling with other people and they were already waiting for my return, so I couldn’t just play with my phone forever.

Finally, I did the right combination of things. I “forgot” the WiFi connection and opened my browser. I took the time to copy the legalese before I agreed to the conditions so that I could read them later. “I agree” was pressed and then I was on-line. I ordered my coffee.

I had been ordering a large regular for over thirty years. This meant a 16-ounce coffee with one cream and one sugar. Now, a 16 ounce coffee was a medium, I often got it wrong and ended up with a coffee so large that it would not fit into my cup holder, but I digress.

Why do we have to agree to a disclaimer before we can access WiFi? I was curious to read the conditions once I got back into the van. The first interesting thing was that it was not even a Canadian policy. Funny thing when you are travelling in Canada and stopping at a site paid for, at least in part, by the taxpayers.

The other thing that struck me was that it was telling me that if I broke the law, it was not OK. Wasn’t that the case whether I agreed or not? This disclaimer was a full 813 words long, which takes the average person over three minutes to read, assuming that they understand it the first time, much longer than I had to wait in line for coffee. WiFi was not available in the washrooms, by the way.

This need to “agree” is not universal. While travelling in Spain I would often hear the happy sound of my iPhone receiving emails as I walked through small towns. When I stopped for coffee there would usually just be free WiFi already connected to my phone. Who is benefiting from this requirement to agree to the terms and conditions? This particular Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) only covered American laws and my guess is that these laws are already in place.

One of the provisions of the AUP read, “The following acts constitute violations of this AUP. Harm to minors. Using the Services to harm, or attempt to harm, minors in any way.” I suspect that this would be illegal even if you weren’t using this particular WiFi, buy hey; I’m not a lawyer.

So, emails downloaded, I took my coffee out to the van and we resumed our travel. It is possible that we have given too much control of our lives to lawyers and insurance companies, but more on that later.

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