Free Wifi Is Fun, But Who’s Responsible?

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Got five minutes?

Do yourself a favor the next time you use free wifi at Starbucks – or McDonalds, Panera Bread, or heck, even Fuddruckers (who knew they were so tech-savvy?) – and devote a few minutes to check out our handy resource that collects the relevant “fine print” from various corporate terms & conditions.

Ok, not many people really ever think about reading them – what with their legal mumbo-jumbo and all — but corporate policies exist for a reason. And there are some scary things in them. That’s why it’s worth taking time to scan one the next time you are in a free public wireless hotspot.

Just take a look at this line from Jetblue’s free wireless offer at New York’s JFK Terminal 5:

“Since the wireless connection providing you with access uses radio signals, you should have no expectation of privacy whatsoever when using the service. Accordingly, in providing this service, JetBlue cannot and does not promise any privacy protection when you use the service.”

(Yeesh, tell us what you really think, JetBlue!)

The company goes on to advise travelers to use protections like a personal VPN, noting that “It is your sole responsibility to install and deploy technological tools to protect your communications and equipment that may be compromised by use of a wireless network.”

Even popular Boltbus warns customers that its wireless service “is an open network provided for your convenience and its use is at your own risk. It is available to the general public, and is NOT INHERENTLY SECURE. BOLTBUS cannot and does not guarantee the privacy of your data and communication.”

Mc-Wifi, Anyone?

Even McDonald’s, in its policy governing wifi through AT&T, says it’s the customer’s responsibility to ensure wireless network security.

The fast-food giant’s wireless connection is governed through a standard “template” policy likely written by AT&T’s legal counsel.

However, on its own site, the fast-food giant adds that “the AT&T Wireless system supports secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) access for optimum security,” encouraging McDonald’s WiFi users to think about security steps before hopping online.

So what are you waiting for? Isn’t it time you installed a virtual private network to encrypt your sensitive information?

Something to chew on for sure the next time you hop online, whether it’s in Starbucks, McDonald’s, or beyond.

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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi’s manager of digital content strategy.