Like Leaving a Diary On a Park Bench? Google Spends $600,000 On Free WiFi In 31 San Francisco Parks

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Following similar moves in cities like New York and Boston, data giant Google is investing some $600,000 to bring free wireless Internet access to 31 San Francisco playgrounds, plazas, recreation centers, and parks.

(Because what the world needs is more distracted parents neglecting their children on dangerous playground equipment while they feverishly update their Instagram accounts!)

But, like it or not, free WiFi at parks is something that is becoming increasingly more common. In this latest endeavor by Google — “designed to empower citizens and community groups, and serve as a pilot for city-wide free WiFi,” according to a company statement — the money will provide for equipment, installation, and maintenance of the WiFi network for two years. After that, it will be the city’s responsibility to maintain it, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said.

“We are behind,” Lee said in an announcement event in the city’s Balboa Park. “I call us the innovation capital of the world but we need to catch up. This is where the relationship with the private sector is so important to us.”

No Privacy At the Park

The downside to free WiFi in San Francisco parks (or anywhere else, for that matter) is that wireless Internet connections are inherently insecure. Without using a personal VPN, that “free” wireless network comes at a steep cost to your online safety and privacy. It is a public network, and everything you do on it can be seen by others. There could also be rogue networks set up by hackers nearby to trick you into revealing your personal information.

Like leaving your diary on a park bench, connecting to the Internet using public WiFi allows anyone with the right software to see what you are doing. So what is the best defense when you’re at the park and really want to hop on the free WiFi?

  • First, use a personal VPN like PRIVATE WiFi software. Using a personal VPN means your online activities will be encrypted and that much safer. A VPN keeps online communications safe by creating a secure “tunnel” through which all encrypted data travels.
  • Second, turn off WiFi or Bluetooth when you don’t need them.
  • Third, avoid online bill paying, accessing sensitive financial accounts, or entering login passwords.
  • Fourth, and finally, turn on data encryption on your smartphone or tablet.

 

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Elaine Rigoli

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