Should You Use ‘Free’ WiFi Networks at Sporting Events?

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In 2014, some NFL stadiums such as the Jacksonville Jaguars offered “high density” WiFi, which allowed tens of thousands of mobile device users to log onto the stadium’s WiFi network. They weren’t the only sport to do so: the NBA is rolling out WiFi at many of their arenas. Internationally, WiFi was installed all over the stadiums that hosted the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and Olympics in Sochi.

In this day and age this is the standard. Because what fun is it to be at a sporting event if you can’t post pictures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram?

But before you log on at your next sporting event, ask yourself exactly what you are giving up in exchange for access to so-called “free” WiFi.

Why Teams are Offering Free WiFi

Obviously, teams want their fans to enjoy the whole experience of being out at the stadium, rooting on their favorite team. Offering customers a public WiFi network is becoming a standard part of the customer experience, whether it’s at the ball game or a local business.

But what else does the team get out of providing you with WiFi access when you attend games? SignalShare, a company which specializes in setting up WiFi networks in sports stadiums, is very explicit about it: they are after your data, which is very lucrative to the team.

Of course, teams can use their WiFi network to deliver customized offers and discounts to fans, which is a win/win for everyone. But in order to access SignalShare’s WiFi network, you must either hand over your email address (which is usually given to the team’s marketing department), or you must provide access to your Facebook account.

When you hand over access to your social media accounts to a company, it has access to a treasure trove of information about you, including who you follow, your likes, and your friend list.

When you sign into one of SignalShare’s WiFi networks and agree to the terms, you are also allowing the network access to your phone’s geolocation information to track you as you move around the stadium, and you are even allowing the network to track what apps you are using on your phone.

When Free Isn’t So Free

Companies and retailers are beginning to realize that they can get a lot out of you by simply offering you free WiFi at their stores or stadiums. By accepting their terms when you login to their networks, you are consenting to give up private information about yourself as well as allowing yourself to be tracked. Is this really what you signed up for?

Put another way, you are implicitly entering into a business arrangement with the merchant or organization. You are the product! But what do they intend to do with the data they receive about you?

In addition, WiFi network are completely open, which means that not only are you being tracked by the owner of the network, you are also completely exposed to anyone else on the network, some of whom may have bad intentions. Remember, only a VPN like PRIVATE WiFi can protect you when you use public WiFi networks.

We all love having Internet access when we are on the go, including when we go out to watch our favorite sports teams. But if we have to give over so much personal information just to get access to an insecure WiFi network, maybe it’s best to simply put our phones away and enjoy the game.

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Jared Howe

Jared Howe is PRIVATE WiFi’s Senior Manager, Product Marketing Communications. Working in high tech for over 15 years, Jared currently lives in Seattle with his wife, daughter, and their two cats.